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Illustration by Security Management

Conflict in Ethiopia Escalates

At least 16 United Nations local employees were detained in Ethiopia this week, and a government spokesman said they were held for their “participation in terror.” The workers, reportedly all ethnic Tigrayans, were swept up in alleged mass arrests of thousands of people who the government suspects of supporting Tigray forces that are approaching the capital, the Associated Press reported.

In addition, 72 truck drivers contracted to the UN and other aid groups have been arrested and detained since the government declared a state of emergency in the country’s escalating civil war. The state of emergency permits the Ethiopian government to detain anyone suspected of collaborating with a terrorist group, requires citizens to carry identification cards, and permits searches of private homes. The declaration came two days after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed urged people to take up arms to defend themselves against Tigrayan forces.

The civil war in Africa’s second-most populous country has left thousands dead and millions displaced. Conflicts broke out a year ago between federal troops and forces loyal to former ruling party in the region—the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. The economy has been hard hit, with official inflation at 35 percent as of September, and prices for food and fuel are skyrocketing, Reuters reported.

According to an October statement from UN Secretary-General António Guterres to the UN Security Council on the situation in Ethiopia, up to 7 million people in Tigray, Amhara, and Afar are in need of food assistance and other emergency support, and an estimated 400,000 people in Tigray are living in famine-like conditions. “The only option for road transportation into Tigray is along the Afar corridor where movements are being severely restricted by official and unofficial checkpoints, insecurity, and other obstacles and challenges,” he said.

Since then, conditions have worsened. The truck drivers were detained in the city of Semera, a gateway for aid convoys to reach Tigray. Authorities believe hundreds of trucks are stuck in Semera, the BBC reported. This has formed a “de facto humanitarian blockade,” the UN said.

According to the AP, “the arrests are a further challenge to efforts to deliver humanitarian aid to millions of people in the Tigray region, which has not received badly needed aid supplies including food, medicines, and fuel since the Ethiopian military began hitting the Tigray capital with airstrikes on 18 October.”

Ethiopia was listed among the countries of highest concern in the UN World Food Programme’s July 2021 Hunger Hotspots report, which noted that conflict is the primary driver for food insecurity, affecting 65 percent of food insecure people.