A humanitarian disaster stares Ethiopia’s Tigray in the face

Ethiopian refugees who fled intense fighting in their homeland of Tigray, wait for their ration of food in the border reception centre of Hamdiyet, in the eastern Sudanese state of Kasala, on November 14, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
Ethiopian refugees who fled intense fighting in their homeland of Tigray, wait for their ration of food in the border reception centre of Hamdiyet, in the eastern Sudanese state of Kasala, on November 14, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 25 February 2021

A humanitarian disaster stares Ethiopia’s Tigray in the face

Ethiopian refugees who fled intense fighting in their homeland of Tigray, wait for their ration of food in the border reception centre of Hamdiyet, in the eastern Sudanese state of Kasala, on November 14, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Hunger stalks region of six million people as federal government’s offensive against rebels enters its fourth month
  • Over a million people could starve if aid is not allowed into conflict zone, says Famine Early Warning Systems Network

DUBAI: With their few hurriedly packed belongings wrapped tightly in fabric, entire families, many with young children, are traversing vast distances on foot these days to escape fighting in northern Ethiopia between federal armed forces and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

Since the conflict erupted three months ago, nearly two million Ethiopians have been forced to flee the country’s Tigray region, many arriving in neighboring Sudan with axe and knife wounds, others with broken bones and severe mental trauma.

Those who have chosen to stay behind — the vast majority of Tigray’s six million inhabitants — now face shortages of food, medicine and drinking water. Ethiopia is facing accusations of blocking aid and the specter of mass hunger haunts the region.

Most concerning of all is the imminent risk of mass hunger, a phenomenon Ethiopians are tragically familiar with. The Great Famine that afflicted the country between 1888 and 1892 killed roughly one-third of its population. Another in 1983-85 left 1.2 million dead.

According to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, presided over by the US government, parts of central and eastern Tigray are just a step away from famine, with fears more than a million could die of starvation if aid is not allowed in soon.

In a recent statement, a trio of Tigray opposition parties said that at least 50,000 civilians had been killed in the conflict since November. Aid agencies and journalists have not been permitted access to the region to verify the death toll.

Ethiopian authorities insist aid is being delivered and that nearly 1.5 million people have been reached. But experts on the Horn of Africa believe one of the worst humanitarian disasters in modern history is unfolding in the conflict zone.

“If the world averts its eyes, it is a bystander to one of the most grievous mass atrocities of our era,” Alex de Waal, executive director of the World Peace Foundation and a research professor at The Fletcher School at Tufts University, told Arab News.

“It will be an unforgivable ethical stain. It is also a matter of interest. Do the countries of the Arabian Peninsula want to see another Yemen-like calamity on the southern shores of the Red Sea — a little further away, but even bigger?”




Abiy Ahmed, Chairman of Oromo Peoples' Democratic Organization (OPDO) looks on in Addis Ababa. Spearhead in the fight against the Derg dictatorship, then a real power in Ethiopia for a long time, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), which the Ethiopian army fights in its northern stronghold of Tigray, has shaped recent history of the country. (AFP/File Photo)

The TPLF, which had dominated Ethiopian politics after the fall of the military dictatorship in 1991 until Abiy’s election victory in 2018, had been in coalition with the current government until the two sides fell out in 2019.

In direct defiance of the federal government’s decision to postpone all votes until the COVID-19 pandemic was under control, Tigray authorities pressed ahead with their own parliamentary election in September. Federal authorities said the vote was illegal.

Tensions escalated further in November when Abiy accused the TPLF of seizing a military base in the regional capital Mekelle. His government responded by declaring a state of emergency, cutting off electricity, internet and telephone services, and designating the TPLF as a terrorist organization.

Although Abiy claimed victory when federal troops entered Mekelle on Nov. 28, the bloodshed has continued as Tigrayan leaders have vowed to fight on.

“The federal government called the conflict a law enforcement operation (intended) to remove from office the Tigray region’s rogue executive,” William Davison, International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Ethiopia, told Arab News.

“The reality was that Tigray’s defenses were overwhelmed by the full power of the Ethiopian federal military and allied forces.”

UN REPORT HIGHLIGHTS

* Reports from aid workers on the ground indicate rise in acute malnutrition across Tigray region.

* Only 1% of the nearly 920 nutrition treatment facilities are reachable.

* Aid response is drastically inadequate, with little access to rural population off the main roads.

* Some aid workers have to negotiate access with armed actors, even Eritrean ones.

As the campaign got underway, the Ethiopian government presented the TPLF as a treasonous entity that had attacked the military and violated the constitutional order, saying that it had no choice but to act.

It also moved against those who questioned whether the intervention would be as quick and painless as claimed, such as Davison, who was deported on November 20.




Ethiopian refugees who fled intense fighting in their homeland of Tigray, gather in the border reception centre of Hamdiyet, in the eastern Sudanese state of Kasala, on November 14, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

Abiy, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for restoring relations with Ethiopia's long-time foe Eritrea, is now being accused by some of war crimes in Tigray.

Seyoum Mesfin, a former Ethiopian foreign minister, peacemaker and an elder statesman of Africa, was among three TPLF leaders killed by the military in early January in a move that sparked an international outcry.

Pramila Patten, the UN envoy on sexual violence in conflict, has said there are “disturbing reports of individuals allegedly forced to rape members of their own family, under threats of imminent violence.”

Recently, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission said 108 cases of rape had been reported over the last two months in the whole of Tigray. It admitted that “local structures such as police and health facilities where victims of sexual violence would normally turn to report such crimes are no longer in place.”




A medic disinfects his tools inside a medical facility for Ethiopian refugee who fled fighting in Tigray province at the Um Raquba camp in Sudan's eastern Gedaref province, on November 21, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

All this amounts to a sharp reversal of fortune for a country that just months ago was being feted as Africa’s fastest growing economy. Now, Ethiopian journalists and human-rights activists are afraid to speak out, many of them avoiding the border areas and letting military atrocities go unreported.

“We’ve been on our toes for months now. You need to be very careful with your comments,” one Addis Ababa-based political analyst, who did not wish to be identified, told Arab News.

“Human-rights abuses are being committed on all sides: the Amhara militias (one of the two largest ethnic groups in Ethiopia), the federal troops themselves and the Eritreans too.

“The humanitarian aspect of the conflict is frightening and especially the lack of indication from the government’s side in providing aid. They say they will, publicly. But large sections of Tigray are still inaccessible. It’s very difficult to say how long they intend to keep it this way, which is of great concern.”




A member of the Amhara Special Forces holds his gun while another washes his face in Humera, Ethiopia, on November 22, 2020. Prime Minister Ahmed, last year's Nobel Peace Prize winner, announced military operations in Tigray on November 4, 2020, saying they came in response to attacks on federal army camps by the party, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF). (AFP/File Photo)

Eritrean soldiers have compounded the problem by reportedly attacking the TPLF on behalf of Abiy’s government, prompting calls from Joe Biden’s administration for their immediate withdrawal. (Both Asmara and Addis Ababa deny that Eritrean forces are present in Tigray.)

Reports say many of the estimated 100,000 Eritrean refugees residing in the region are at risk of getting caught in the crossfire or being forcibly returned. Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, has said he is “deeply alarmed by reports of refugees being killed, abducted and forcibly returned to Eritrea that would constitute a major violation of international law.”

De Waal of the World Peace Foundation says if the war causes a humanitarian catastrophe and the economic collapse of Ethiopia, there is no doubt that the consequences will be felt far and wide.

“The human and economic price will be paid by the people of the Horn of Africa, but those people will also start moving en masse towards Europe, and the humanitarian cum economic bailout bill will be presented to Europe and the US,” he told Arab News.

“At a time of austerity and reduced aid budgets, this presents aid donors with a terrible dilemma.”

Summing up the Tigray crisis and its potential solution without mincing words, De Waal said: “With every passing day there is more suffering, killing, starvation, deeper bitterness and wider repercussions. Withdraw Eritrean troops. Then start political talks.”

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Twitter: @rebeccaaproctor


Libyan election talks get underway in Rome

The meeting in Rome will include representatives from across Libya, as well as members of the UN Support Mission in Libya. (Reuters/File Photo)
The meeting in Rome will include representatives from across Libya, as well as members of the UN Support Mission in Libya. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 26 July 2021

Libyan election talks get underway in Rome

The meeting in Rome will include representatives from across Libya, as well as members of the UN Support Mission in Libya. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Members of respective parliaments meet to discuss ways of enhancing Libyan-Italian cooperation

ROME: Intra-Libyan talks on adopting the legal framework for the country’s next general election began in Rome on Monday, July 26, and are expected to continue until July 29.

A source in the Italian Prime Minister’s office told Arab News that members of the Libyan special commission arrived in Rome on July 25, “to discuss … an electoral law for the next general elections” scheduled for Dec. 24, 2021.

The commission, which holds a largely technical role from a legal perspective, will present a proposal to the Libyan House of Representatives in Tobruk for its final approval.

The meeting in Rome will include representatives from across Libya, as well as members of the UN Support Mission in Libya.

Parliamentary spokesman Abdullah Blehik told Italian news agency Nova that House Speaker Aguila Saleh “will not participate in meetings aimed at developing a constitutional foundation for the parliamentary and presidential elections.”

Piero Fassino, head of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, told Arab News: “We are very happy that the meetings will be held in Rome — it signals that the new democratic Libya sees Italy as a reliable partner on the path towards democracy and the final end of the violence in that country.”

Fassino recalled that in the past few weeks, several meetings had taken place between members of the Italian and Libyan parliaments, which were attended also by Saleh.

“When he met us, Aguila Saleh stressed that cooperation with Italy is very important as it is the closest European state to Libya, and there are so many common interests between the two states,” Fassino added.

“We believe that this meeting, starting today in Rome, shows another real sign of the wish to enhance our cooperation.”


New Zealand to accept alleged Daesh militant, 2 kids

New Zealand to accept alleged Daesh militant, 2 kids
Updated 26 July 2021

New Zealand to accept alleged Daesh militant, 2 kids

New Zealand to accept alleged Daesh militant, 2 kids
  • PM Ardern: New Zealand could not remove citizenship from anybody if it left them stateless
  • The woman and her children were arrested when they tried to illegally cross from Syria into Turkey

WELLINGTON, New Zealand: New Zealand on Monday agreed to repatriate an alleged Daesh militant and her two young children, who have been detained in Turkey since February.
The decision follows a bitter dispute with Australia over which country needed to shoulder responsibility for the woman, who had been a dual citizen of both countries until Australia stripped her citizenship under its anti-terrorism laws.
The woman and her children were arrested when they tried to illegally cross from Syria into Turkey, according to Turkey’s Defense Ministry. Turkey identified her only by her initials, S.A., while New Zealand media say she is Suhayra Aden, who was 26 at the time of her arrest.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said New Zealand had taken into account its international responsibilities and could not remove citizenship from anybody if it left them stateless.
“I made very strong representations to Australia that she should be permitted to return there. Her family moved to Australia when she was 6 and she grew up there before departing for Syria in 2014 on an Australian passport,” Ardern said in a statement. “Unfortunately, Australia would not reverse the cancelation of citizenship.”
Australian Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said the woman lost her citizenship as a result of her own actions, and that ending citizenship for dual nationals engaged in terrorist conduct was an integral part of Australia’s response to terrorist threats.
“The government’s first priority is always to protect the Australian community,” Andrews said in a statement.
Ardern said the safety and wellbeing of New Zealanders was the government’s paramount concern. She said there had been extensive planning with the police and other agencies.
“I can assure people great care is being taken as to how the woman and her young children are returned to New Zealand and how they will be managed in a way that minimizes any risk for New Zealanders,” Ardern said.
Authorities declined to say when the family would be repatriated, citing legal and security concerns.
Ardern said anybody suspected of being associated with a terrorist group should expect to be investigated under New Zealand laws, although the case remained a matter for the police.
New Zealand police confirmed an investigation was underway but declined further comment on whether the woman would face any criminal charges.


Southern India’s only chief minister from PM Modi’s party resigns

Southern India’s only chief minister from PM Modi’s party resigns
Updated 26 July 2021

Southern India’s only chief minister from PM Modi’s party resigns

Southern India’s only chief minister from PM Modi’s party resigns
  • BJP has failed to make inroads in other southern states despite running the country since 2014
  • Modi recently dropped many senior ministers from his cabinet as he tries to reinvigorate his administration

BENGALURU: The chief minister of India’s Karnataka, the only state ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party in the country’s prosperous south, resigned on Monday in the latest political shake-up in the Hindu nationalist group.
B.S. Yediyurappa, a four-time chief minister of the state, home to India’s technology capital of Bengaluru, had helped the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) form its first government in India’s southern region in 2008.
The party has failed to make inroads in other southern states despite running the country since 2014. Aside from Yediyurappa’s resignation, Modi recently dropped many senior ministers from his cabinet as he tries to reinvigorate his administration dented by a huge second surge in coronavirus infections.
Yediyurappa, 78, quit because he was older than its cut-off age of 75 years for ministerial positions, BJP spokeswoman Malavika Avinash said.
“I had no pressure from senior party leaders. I am voluntarily submitting my resignation,” Yediyurappa said in an emotional address broadcast live on local television channels.
Bengaluru hosts offices of big multinational companies such as Microsoft, Amazon and Goldman Sachs.
Analysts said the BJP will have to move fast to name a successor or risk being outmaneuvered by the opposition.
“If the BJP cannot come up with a name soon enough, it would give the opposition a chance to swoop in,” said Narendar Pani, dean, School of Social Sciences at the National Institute of Advanced Studies in Bengaluru.
“The challenge for the BJP will be to find a successor who will have the same kind of pull and can bring various groups together.”
The BJP changed the chief minister of the northern state of Uttarakhand twice this year, months ahead of local elections. Karnataka elections are due only in 2023.


Malaysian doctors stage walkout amid worsening COVID-19 outbreak

Malaysian doctors stage walkout amid worsening COVID-19 outbreak
Updated 26 July 2021

Malaysian doctors stage walkout amid worsening COVID-19 outbreak

Malaysian doctors stage walkout amid worsening COVID-19 outbreak
  • The doctors are on contracts for a set period and say their treatment is worse than that of permanent government staff

SUNGAI BULOH, Malaysia: Hundreds of junior doctors at state-run Malaysian hospitals staged walkouts Monday demanding better conditions as the country faces its worst coronavirus outbreak yet.
Dressed in black and holding signs with slogans including “equal pay, equal rights, equal opportunity” and “we are your future specialists,” they protested at medical facilities nationwide.
The doctors are on contracts for a set period and say their treatment is worse than that of permanent government staff, even as they have found themselves on the frontline of the fight against COVID-19.
They complain of a lack of job security, poor benefits and that very few are eventually offered permanent positions.
We want “equal rights, to be a permanent doctor,” said a medic at a government hospital that treats virus patients outside Kuala Lumpur.
“We would definitely not be here if we were treated fairly... we should be appreciated for what we do,” the doctor, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told reporters.
The medic was among dozens who took part in the action at the hospital, which lasted around half an hour.
Local media reported that several hundred participated across the country, but some doctors complained they were threatened by police and senior hospital staff in a bid to halt the protests.
Those involved said senior doctors took over their duties before they walked out, to ensure that patient care was not jeopardized.
Malaysia is currently battling its most serious outbreak, driven by the highly contagious Delta variant. Officials have reported over one million cases and about 8,000 deaths.
There are over 23,000 doctors on these contracts in Malaysia — about 45 percent of the total medical doctors in the public health care system, according to official estimates.
Last week, the government said it would extend junior doctors’ contracts for up to four years in a bid to forestall the protests.
But they stopped short of offering permanent jobs, and the organizers of Monday’s walkout criticized the move as “short-sighted.”


Tight security around Nigeria court as separatist’s trial resumes

Tight security around Nigeria court as separatist’s trial resumes
Updated 26 July 2021

Tight security around Nigeria court as separatist’s trial resumes

Tight security around Nigeria court as separatist’s trial resumes
  • The case is one of two on Monday in which Nigerian authorities are seeking to prosecute citizens campaigning for autonomy

ABUJA: Nigerian security forces blocked traffic and tightly controlled access to an Abuja courthouse where the trial of a separatist leader was due to resume on Monday, Reuters witnesses said.
Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a banned organization campaigning for secession in southeast Nigeria, was due to appear at the Federal High Court to face 11 charges including treason.
The case is one of two on Monday in which Nigerian authorities are seeking to prosecute citizens campaigning for autonomy in different regions of Africa’s most populous nation.
The cases underline the government’s concern over growing discontent and insecurity in various regions of Nigeria.
In Cotonou, Benin, Nigerian authorities are seeking the extradition of Sunday Adeyemo, known locally as Sunday Igboho, a Yoruba activist it accuses of plotting a violent insurrection in the southwest of the country. Security forces raided his compound in Ibadan on July 1, claiming they found a stockpile of weapons there.
Kanu was first arrested in 2015, but disappeared while on bail in April 2017 after two years in jail fighting charges. His social media posts during his absence outraged the government, which said they sparked some attacks on security forces in southeastern Nigeria.
His whereabouts were unclear until security agents produced him in an court in Abuja on June 29, saying that he had been detained abroad, but not where. His lawyer alleged he was detained and mistreated in Kenya, though Kenya has denied involvement.
IPOB wants a swathe of the southeast, homeland of the Igbo ethnic group, to split from Nigeria. An attempt to secede in 1967 as the Republic of Biafra triggered a three-year civil war in which more than a million died, mostly from starvation.