UN: Deaths From Starvation Reported in Ethiopia’s Tigray

The United Nations humanitarian chief warned Tuesday that the 1984 famine that killed more than 1 million Ethiopians could occur again if aid access to that country’s northern Tigray region is not quickly improved, scaled up and properly funded. “There is now famine in Tigray,” aid chief Mark Lowcock told a private, informal meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday, according to a copy of his written remarks seen by VOA. He said the Tigray administration has reported deaths from starvation. “The situation is set to get worse in the coming months, not only in Tigray, but in Afar and Amhara, as well.” Last week, urgent calls went out from the U.N. and partner aid agencies for a humanitarian cease-fire. It came on the heels of a report warning that 350,000 people were already in famine conditions in Tigray and that 2 million more were just a step away. The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, or IPC as it is known, reported that more than 5.5 million people overall were in crisis levels of food insecurity in Tigray and the neighboring zones of Amhara and Afar. The U.N. children’s agency UNICEF has also warned that 33,000 severely malnourished children in currently unreachable areas of Tigray are also at high risk of death. The scope of the problem is massive. Lowcock said there were 123 humanitarian agencies operating in the area and 10 times as many aid workers in Tigray today than at the start of the crisis in November. “But substantial further scale-up is urgently required if we are to make a significant impact on growing needs,” Lowcock said. FILE – U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock in Geneva, Switzerland, Dec. 4, 2018.The United Nations has appealed for $853 million to assist 5.2 million people until the end of the year, with almost $200 million needed before the end of July. Access to people in remote and hard-to-reach areas has been an ongoing problem since the conflict erupted in November between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and the government of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Ethiopia’s U.N. ambassador, Taye Atske Selassie Amde, said the situation did not warrant security council attention. He added that his government “vehemently disagreed” with the humanitarian assessment, saying data was collected in a “very botched” way. “Having said that, using humanitarian issues, particularly famine and starvation, in order to exert undue pressure on Ethiopia is completely unacceptable,” he told reporters after the meeting. “It’s not a drought or locusts that are causing this hunger, but the decisions of those in power,” British Ambassador Barbara Woodward said. “That means those in power could also end the suffering.” She added that Eritrean forces need to leave Ethiopia. “We were told in March that Eritrean forces would be withdrawing. It’s now June. There can be no further delay,” she told reporters. The Ethiopian envoy said the delay was due to “sorting some technical and procedural issues.” “Our expectation is that they will definitely leave soon,” he said.  U.S. envoy Jeffrey DeLaurentis told council members that “we have to act now” to prevent a famine, according to a diplomat familiar with the council’s discussion. DeLaurentis also called for an urgent end to hostilities, unhindered aid access and a political dialogue to resolve the crisis, as well as accountability for those responsible for human rights abuses.  The U.N. Security Council has held a handful of private meetings on the growing crisis but has failed to take any serious action to pressure the parties to stop the fighting, allow aid workers safely in and get Eritrea’s troops to leave. In April, the council issued a statement calling for better humanitarian access, but it has taken no action to pressure spoilers to comply. 

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Arab Foreign Ministers Meet in Qatar to Discuss Nile Dam Conflict

Arab League foreign ministers met Tuesday in Qatar, focusing on efforts to resolve the Nile River dam conflict between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. Egypt’s Foreign Minister said Cairo is seeking a diplomatic, not a military, solution to its dispute with Ethiopia over the filling of the dam, set to begin next month.Arab League head Ahmed Aboul Gheit and Qatar’s Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdel Rahman bin Jassem al Thani talked to journalists Tuesday after Arab League foreign ministers met in Doha.They said the group is calling on the U.N. Security Council to take up the water dispute between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia.  Arab Ministers of Foreign Affairs attend a consultative meeting in the Qatari capital Doha, June 15, 2021.The league is trying to prevent a conflict when Ethiopia begins to fill the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam again next month despite the absence of a water-use agreement with Egypt and Sudan.  Mediation efforts by the African Union have not made any tangible progress and both Egypt and Sudan have expressed concern that their national security will be adversely affected if Ethiopia proceeds with filling the dam. Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry addresses his Arab counterparts during a consultative meeting in the Qatari capital Doha, June 15, 2021.Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told Arab media Monday that Cairo is still trying to exhaust all diplomatic channels with Ethiopia before resorting to other means.He said Egypt is trying to reach a solution within the current negotiating framework, but if it fails and there is damage or a threat to the lives of Egyptians or Sudanese, then both countries have a responsibility to defend and protect their people. Sudan’s Irrigation Minister Yasser Abbas told a press conference Monday in Khartoum his country would approve the filling of the dam if Ethiopia enters into a binding agreement with both Sudan and Egypt. He said Sudan is ready to accept a step-by-step agreement with Ethiopia if it will sign an accord including everything that has been agreed upon until now, including a guarantee that negotiations will continue within a finite period of time. FILE – Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed responds to questions from members of parliament at the prime minister’s office in the capital Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Nov. 30, 2020.Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who repeatedly has insisted the filling of the dam will continue, as scheduled, at the start of July, said recently his country was not trying to use the dam to pressure its neighbors. He said the dam is a sign of Ethiopia’s independence and through it, “we affirm that we have no behind-the-scenes colonialist project to use against our neighbors.” He added that Ethiopia is a “proud, independent country, and will continue to be so, forever.” Egyptian political analyst Said Sadek told VOA that Ethiopia’s ruling party has been using the dam negotiations for “internal political considerations,” including uniting disparate ethnic factions within the country and rallying support ahead of upcoming elections.  He also believes Egyptian leaders will exhaust diplomatic means before taking more forceful action.  “Egypt is hesitant to jump into a war before fulfilling all the diplomatic channels so that anything that is done, at least we have legitimate international coverage, or we went through the channels of solving international problems peacefully and we failed,” Sadek said. Paul Sullivan, a professor at the U.S. National Defense University in Washington, told VOA, “This is a very delicate and treacherous moment for negotiations,” and the situation could become “inflamed” if Ethiopia tries to fill the dam too quickly, causing water shortages in Egypt and Sudan.  “The situation is coming to a head, and what happens in the next few weeks could determine a lot,” he added. 
 

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Syrian Refugees in Somalia Enrich Culture, Contribute to Economy

Since the war in Syria broke out a decade ago, refugees have fled to countries in the Middle East and Europe as well as to countries in Africa that face instability, like Somalia. And, as Mohamed Sheikh Nor reports from Mogadishu, Somali officials say Syrian refugees are enriching the host nation culturally and economically.Camera: Mohamed Sheikh Nor  
 

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Tens of Thousands of Tigray Children Face Imminent Death, UNICEF Warns

The U.N. Children’s Fund warns at least 33,000 severely malnourished children in northern Ethiopia’s Tigray region face imminent death if they do not receive immediate help to treat their condition.UNICEF is appealing to the Ethiopian government to live up to its promise of unimpeded access to conflict-ridden Tigray province. Agency spokesman James Elder warns this man-made disaster will have unimaginably tragic consequences for thousands of children if aid agencies are unable to reach them.“Incredulously, things can actually deteriorate further for children as food insecurity is expected to worsen over the coming months. So, we risk many more deaths than the 33,000 that we fear if crops cannot be planted. So, it is imperative that parties to the conflict ensures humanitarian access to UNICEF and unimpeded and safe access on the ground to stave off widespread famine,” he said.UNICEF reports at least 140,000 people in Tigray are facing famine-like conditions. Amid this crisis, it projects some 56,000 children will need treatment for severe acute malnutrition. This, it notes is almost six times higher than the average annual caseload for the region.FILE – A young boy looks up as displaced Tigrayans line up to receive food at a reception center for the internally displaced in Mekele, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, May 9, 2021.Elder said helping these children will be difficult. He said the warring parties have inflicted extensive damage to essential systems and services on which children depend for their survival.He said health facilities have been looted or damaged, and water infrastructure has been destroyed, causing safe drinking water to be in short supply. This, he warns could lead to outbreaks of disease, putting malnourished children at even greater risk of dying.He said health workers have been attacked and harassed, discouraging many from returning to work.“Mobile health and nutrition teams need to be able to do their jobs safely. They are trying right now as we speak to do upcoming measles, polio, vitamin A nutrition campaigns. Remember, it is not just the lack of food that kills under-fives, it is other diseases, water and sanitation,” said Elder.UNICEF is calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities so children can safely receive the lifesaving services they need to begin to rebuild their lives. It says it also needs the cash to be able to fund these services.The UN children’s agency says it is $13 million short of the $47 million it needs to care for 1.3 million children, many of whom are struggling to survive. 

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18 Killed in South Sudan Inter-Communal Clashes Despite Police Measures 

When police in South Sudan’s Lakes state heard tensions were rising between two local communities, they deployed forces along area roads and villages in an effort to prevent clashes. 
The police also switched off the mobile phone network in East Rumbek County so that armed men from the Alou and Manyangreel cattle camps could not call their friends and urge them to join the fighting, said Lakes state police spokesperson Captain Elijah Mabor Makuac. Unfortunately, the police effort could not prevent casualties. Makuac said fighting “between two main sections of Gony and Thuyic” erupted about 10 a.m. Saturday over the rights to two areas of cattle grazing land. He said 18 people were killed and 22 others were injured. According to Makuac, authorities were hampered in their response despite advance knowledge of the tensions. He said police are reluctant to wade into inter-communal clashes because armed youth often turn against the police and shoot them. The spokesman also said there are no roads leading into or out of areas where the fighting took place. The Alou and Manyangreel communities have repeatedly fought over grazing land. Makuac urged national government officials to intervene and settle the dispute. “Our role as police is to report security issues when things are out of our hands like this, because this type of conflict is out of the control of police,” Makuac told VOA. “Even the armed youth are more armed than the organized forces themselves, so we provide security reports and then authorities will decide on it.” Reverend Father Benjam Madol of the Catholic Diocese of Rumbek condemned the violence and also called on the national government to pay closer attention to armed young men in Lakes State before the violence gets worse. “These youths fighting each other have lost value in society. They are not our people, they are wild, and they don’t listen to anyone, even their parents. They have grown disrespectful in the society. I don’t see what they are fighting for because the land is vast for the animals to graze,” Madol told “South Sudan in Focus.”Meanwhile, police in Lakes state say they are preparing to receive Lt. General Rin Tueny Mabor, the newly appointed Lakes governor, in the coming week. A security committee will brief Governor Mabor upon his arrival about the ongoing inter-communal clashes. 

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South Sudan Blocks UN Peacekeepers from Volatile Areas 

The new chief of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) says U.N. peacekeepers are being blocked from accessing some sensitive areas, despite an agreement by South Sudan’s government to cooperate with the mission.  Nicholas Haysom was appointed by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres earlier this year to oversee the activities of 14,500 U.N. soldiers and 2,000 police in the country. In an exclusive interview with VOA’s “South Sudan in Focus” program, Haysom said U.N. peacekeepers are not able to patrol in Western Equatoria and Western Bahr El Ghazal states, due to a lack of consent from the South Sudan government.FILE – Chinese Peacekeepers of the UN Mission to South Sudan parade during the International Day of UN Peacekeepers in Juba, May 29, 2017.In September 2020, Chinese UNMISS troops were prevented from traveling to Lobonok village, east of the capital, Juba, where civilians were under attack from both government forces and the rebels of the National Salvation Front.  The government of South Sudan and the U.N. signed a status of force agreement on August 8, 2011, to allow U.N. peacekeepers to operate in the country.  The agreement requires South Sudan to give consent to peacekeepers for their activities.  But Haysom said getting a consent from the host country is still problematic in some cases.     ‘’This has been an issue we have been engaging with the host country for some time. We now have a situation where we can more or less reach about 90% of the country provided we follow a particular route, which is not a permit-based approach, but a notification approach,” he said.  Intercommunal violence  Despite the peacekeepers’ presence, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights warned earlier this year that internal communal violence is threatening to engulf parts of Central Equatoria, Jonglei, Warrap and Lakes states.  South Sudan has also witnessed a recent spike in road ambushes by unidentified groups and fighting between government forces and rebels of the National Salvation Front in parts of the Central Equatoria state. Haysom said negotiations, not military intervention, is key to ending such violence in South Sudan.    “Quite frankly, political agreements between communities are more effective than the guns and gun powder required to effect an end to intercommunal violence,” he said.      The U.N. top diplomat in South Sudan said the U.N. Security Council directed the mission this year to develop a three year-strategic vision to prevent a return to civil war; to support durable peace at the local and national levels; to support inclusive and accountable governance and free and fair peaceful elections.  Haysom said UNMISS is planning to step up patrols between Juba and Nimule to deter security threats on the main supply route linking South Sudan Uganda and Kenya. But he said protection of civilians is the responsibility of the state adding that the United Nations can only come in to fill a vacuum.    “First of all, you would need to appreciate the responsibility for protecting civilians doesn’t rest with the UN. It rests with the host country,” he said. “A host country is expected to protect its own citizens. We play a supplementary role particularly it [state] is incapable or unable to do it.”   Haysom said South Sudan’s leaders should work towards creating a national vision for achieving peace and prosperity.   “You know, provided things move forward, the international community I think will increasingly engage and that would be an improvement. Provided things move forward, it will create an atmosphere in which we can build trust between the parties,” he said. 

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Ethiopian Holy City Reels From Tigray Crisis

For Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, who comprise more than 40% of their country’s population and most of the people in the Tigray region, the city of Axum is the holiest of places.  
 
They believe it to be home to the Ark of the Covenant, or the original Ten Commandments, and the birthplace of Ethiopian Christianity.
 
“I would die to protect this church,” said Alem Gebreslase, a 24-year-old parishioner, on Sunday at the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion, one of the oldest churches in Ethiopia and Axum’s center or worship. “But God will protect the Ark.” Worshippers gather outside a church complex in Axum, the holiest city for Orthodox Ethiopians, June 11, 2021. (Yan Boechat/VOA)In past years, pilgrims and tourists would flock to Axum to pray, visit historical sites and snap pictures. Last year, when the coronavirus pandemic swept the world, most stayed away. Then in November 2020, war broke out and visitors stopped coming almost completely.  
 
The war, primarily between the Ethiopian National Defense Force and the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, includes Eritrean forces fighting against the TPLF, and militias on both sides.  
 
The violence began in November 2020 when TPLF forces attacked federal military bases in Tigray and Ethiopian forces swept through the region.
 
In the first month of conflict, Eritrean troops killed hundreds of civilians in Axum, according to Amnesty International.   A father and his son go to the oldest church in Ethiopia to be blessed, in Axum, Ethiopia, June 13, 2021. (Yan Boechat/VOA)In Axum, locals described those early days of violence, with details varying from mass shootings to house-to-house raids. Consistent in every person’s story, however, were descriptions of so many bodies.
 
“Besides the soaring death toll,” Amnesty International said in a February statement, “Axum’s residents were plunged into days of collective trauma amid violence, mourning and mass burials.”
 
In recent months, Axum has quieted, with violence mostly taking place in the countryside. The city has also begun hosting different kinds of visitors. Families displaced by war in their villages and small towns have come in droves, crowding into empty schoolhouses and on the grounds of the church.
 
“The situation has become reversed,” said Aygdu, a 57-year-old Axum merchant who gave only his nickname for security reasons. “People were fleeing from the city to the countryside. Now they are fleeing from the country to the city.”At the oldest church in Axum, Ethiopians collect ashes from a pit fire that is believed to be blessed, in Axum, Ethiopia, June 11, 2021. (Yan Boechat/VOA)Along the roadsides in remote areas outside of Axum, hundreds of Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers could be seen in trucks, buses and cars over the weekend. In the city of Axum, Ethiopian federal forces patrolled the streets, enforcing a strict nightly curfew.
 
In the churchyard early Sunday, a mother of five begged for small amounts of money, saying she just arrived in Axum the day before, when troops entered her town.  
 
“I have no other place to go,” she said.
 A city strained
 
At a restaurant in town that serves traditional Ethiopian food, beers and sodas, Aygdu, the merchant, said the influx of displaced families has forced people to open their businesses, despite sporadic violence. Alem Gebreslase, a 24-year-old parishioner, says she would die to protect the Ark of the Covenant which is believed by the Orthodox Ethiopians to be in a church in Axum, Ethiopia, June 13, 2021. (Yan Boechat/VOA)The church and the schools appear crowded with displaced families, he said, but there are also many households hosting relatives, straining the budgets in a town that has been in economic free-fall for more than a year. Prices of basic food items have doubled, he added.
 
“We may feel it’s dangerous,” he explained, “But if we don’t open our shops, we may die from hunger.”
 
In the early days of conflict, locals say businesses, homes and public services were looted and hundreds of civilians were killed. Aygdu’s furniture supply store was looted along with his house, he said.
 
“Even my television and bed were taken,” he said.  
 Hospitals overwhelmed
 
Hospitals and health care centers across the region have also been looted, according to Axum University’s Referral Hospital’s administrative director, Zemichael Weldegebriel. Since the war began last November, the Axum University Referral Hospital has never stopped receiving battle-wounded patients, in Axum, Ethiopia, June 10, 2021. (Yan Boechat/VOA)“We are trying to support poor communities,” he said in his office on Thursday. “But the health care we can provide is not meeting their requirements.”   
 
His hospital, which is supposed to take the worst cases from an area where 3.5 million people live, he said, is now taking every kind of case, because most local health care centers were either damaged or robbed until their cupboards were nearly bare.
 
People are still dying from war injuries, he added, but mortality rates have also gone up for people who have never been victims of bombs or bullets. More women are dying in childbirth, more children are malnourished, and more injuries and sicknesses are fatal because of late or substandard care, he said.  
 
Essential medicines are missing and agents to conduct medical tests are largely not available, he explained. Free replacement medicine is provided by the federal government, but he said local supply centers are mostly out of stock.Nigusse Tadele, 29, woke up in a clinic after a bombing. He lost his toes and part of his ear, pictured in Axum, Ethiopia, June 10, 2021. (Yan Boechat/VOA)And the war wounded keep coming. “In seven months, we have never been out of patients,” he said.
 
In a ward filled with the wounded, Nigusse Tadele, 29, said he was hurrying out of the house as bombs drew nearer. A blast hit near him and his next memory was waking up at a clinic where his injured toes became infected before he could get to the hospital.  
 
More than a month later, he has lost his toes and lays in a cot in Axum, waiting to recover and return to his work as a government agriculture worker, he said.
 
“They may suspect there are TPLF supporters in our village,” he said, considering why he was hit. “But I haven’t seen any military camp.” 

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Cameroon Aids CAR Citizens Displaced by Ongoing Post-Election Violence

Cameroon has offered huge consignments of food and mattresses to at least 3,000 displaced persons said to be in dire need on its eastern border with the Central African Republic. Most of the people, displaced by violence following December presidential elections in the CAR, say they lost everything and that ongoing unrest keeps them from returning home.   
 
At least 700 displaced people from the Central African Republic turned out in Kentzou, an administrative unit on Cameroon’s eastern border with the CAR, Friday to receive assistance from the host country. One day earlier, Cameroon said it had sent a delegation led by Territorial Administration Minister Paul Atanga Nji to eastern Cameroon to help those displaced by the CAR crisis.
 
Nji visited several border villages and administrative units, including Kentzou and Garoua-Boulai. Nji said he distributed food and humanitarian assistance from the government of Cameroon. He said Cameroon decided to assist displaced persons after local government officials said the Central Africans were living in poverty.He said the government of Cameroon mobilized 17 trucks to transport and donate mattresses, blankets, buckets and food to at least 3,400 displaced people. He said President Paul Biya instructed him to tell the displaced persons to live in peace and respect Cameroon’s laws. He said Cameroon wants to know when the displaced will want to voluntarily return to the CAR.The violence that sparked the exodus involves armed groups and has been ongoing since Austin-Archange Touadera was reelected president in December. Much of the trouble is centered on border areas. It is suspected that fleeing rebels are among the displaced persons.
Nji said Cameroon was delighted that the items will improve the living conditions of the displaced persons until they go home.  Donatien Barka, the mayor of Kentzou, however, said host communities have been reporting clashes with the displaced Central Africans and that the area is no longer secure.   FILE – A woman who fled the violent rebellion in Central African Republic (CAR) sits with her family as they await their registration process, in the border town of Garoua-Boulai, Cameroon, Jan. 7, 2021. 
Barka said between 2017 and 2020, some 32,000 people displaced by the fighting have sought refuge in Kentzou. He said the influx inundated the 28,000 inhabitants of Kentzou and that theft of food and cattle, and conflicts over lodging and farmlands were reported daily. He said Cameroon reinforced its military in Kentzou in January when rebels protesting the CAR leadership came to Kentzou illegally.
 
Barka said he did not have updated figures of the number of displaced people remaining in Kentzou because movement across the porous border is uncontrolled. He said when there is fighting in the CAR, people cross over to Cameroon. He said his wish is for the displaced persons to return to their country.  
 
Martial Beti-Marace, the CAR’s ambassador to Cameroon, says peace is gradually returning to the CAR and civilians who fled fighting should agree to voluntarily return to their country.
 
Speaking from the CAR’s capital Bangui, he said democratic institutions are gradually being put in place after the December 27 elections in which a majority of CAR civilians chose Touadera as their president. He said a majority of civilians who fled bloody conflicts between government troops and rebels in the CAR have voluntarily returned and are living in peace in their towns and villages.   
 
Beti-Marace said Cameroon and the CAR are both struggling to maintain a collective peace because a crisis in either country affects them both. He said Cameroon and the CAR are trying to convince displaced persons to return home and contribute to the development of their country.
 
Violence among armed groups since 2013 has forced close to a million Central Africans to flee to neighboring Cameroon, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria.    
 
Cameroon shares a 900-kilometer border with the CAR. Cameroon’s Territorial Administration Ministry says Cameroon has taken in and is home to more 300,000 displaced Central Africans.  
 

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