Ethiopia - New Airstrike Hits Tigray's Capital

Civilians survey the destruction in Mekele.
20 October 2021

Separatists accused the government of killing civilians in the strike that Adis Ababa said was targeting arms depots. Amid the turmoil, the UN announced withdrawing half of its staff from the country.

Ethiopia launched two consecutive airstrikes within hours of each other in the Tigray region on Wednesday. At the same time, the United Nations said it was withdrawing half of its workers from the country amidst a deepening humanitarian crisis that the Ethiopian government and the separatist Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) blame each other for.

Ethiopia targets heavy weapons facilities

For the second time this week, Ethiopia's government said it was targeting facilities used to make and repair weapons in Tigray's capital of Mekele. While locals confirmed to reporters that an industrial compound in Mekele had been destroyed, the TPLF said that there were also numerous civilian casualties.

UN spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters in New York that according to initial information, women and children had been injured in the attacks.

"Indeed there have been air strikes in Mekele today," Ethiopian government spokesman Legesse Tulu told AP news agency. Legesse said that there had been "no intended harm to civilians."

The second strike on Wednesday took place in Agbe, 80 kilometers (50 miles) west of Mekele, and had targeted a military training facility and heavy artillery depot.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has begun a second term in office with an escalation of the Tigray conflict.

Nearly a year since the outbreak of hostilities, an untold number of civilians have died and tens of thousands have been plunged into famine-like conditions.

UN cites 'increasingly dangerous security situation'

The five million people who live in Tigray are effectively shut off from the outside world by a blockade that the UN has said makes it impossible to deliver aid. Both sides, the Ethiopian government and the TPLF, have traded accusations over who is at fault for the deteriorating circumstances.

"Although not all movements have yet taken place, there will probably be a reduction from nearly 530 to around 220 UN staff on the ground in Tigray," UN humanitarian spokesman Saviano Abreu told the AP news agency.

Abreu said the decision is "directly linked to the operation constraints we have been faced with over the last months" along with the increasingly dangerous security situation.

Earlier this week, Abiy's government said the UN was being "absurd" when it demanded unfettered access to areas under the blockade.

After coming to power in 2018, Ahmed received international accolades, including a Nobel Peace Prize, for effectively ending Ethiopia's twenty-year conflict with neighboring Eritrea.

However, he then turned his attention to the TPLF, an issue that has been at the forefront of Ethiopian politics for years. The brutality of his armed response has led to calls to revoke his Nobel prize.


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