Ethiopian airstrikes in Tigray force UN flight to turn back – reports

The development appears to be a sharp escalation in the intimidation tactics that Ethiopian authorities have used against aid workers.

Clouds of black smoke from fires in the aftermath of an airstrike in Mekele
Clouds of black smoke from fires in the aftermath of an airstrike in Mekele

Ethiopian military airstrikes forced a United Nations humanitarian flight to abandon its landing in the capital of the country’s Tigray region, aid workers said.

The development appears to be a sharp escalation in the intimidation tactics that Ethiopian authorities have used against aid workers amid the intensifying, year-long Tigray war.

Ethiopian government spokesman Legesse Tulu told The Associated Press (AP) that authorities were aware the UN flight was in the area but said that UN and military flights had a “different time and direction”.

It was not immediately clear how close the Ethiopian warplanes came to the UN aircraft.

Smoke from fires at the scene of an airstrike in Mekele
Smoke from fires at the scene of an airstrike in Mekele (AP)

The government spokesman said the airstrikes in the city of Mekele targeted a former military training centre now being used as a “battle network hub” by rival Tigray forces.

The UN flight had planned to land in Mekele, the main base of humanitarian operations in Tigray.

Ethiopia’s government in recent months has accused some humanitarian groups of supporting the Tigray forces, and last month it expelled seven UN officials while accusing them without evidence of falsely inflating the scale of the Tigray crisis.

The friction between the government and humanitarian groups is occurring amid the world’s worst hunger crisis in a decade, with close to half-a-million people in Tigray said to be facing famine-like conditions.

Authorities have also subjected humanitarian workers on United Nations flights to searches while imposing what the UN has called a “de facto humanitarian blockade” on the region of some six million people.

Spokesmen for the Tigray forces have denied that sites targeted earlier this week were used in relation to the fighting. Health workers and other residents have said that at least three children have been killed and more than a dozen people injured.

People sift through wreckage at the scene
People sift through wreckage at the scene of an airstrike (AP)

Thousands of people have been killed since November, when a political falling-out between the Tigray forces who long dominated the national government and the current administration of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed erupted in fighting.

Tigray’s population is now under a government blockade, while Tigray forces in recent months have taken the fighting into the neighbouring Amhara and Afar regions.

The UN says more than two million people have now been displaced.

On Thursday, Ethiopia’s government claimed a successful strike against another military base used by the Tigray forces near Mekele, but Tigray forces spokesman Getachew Reda said that air defences prevented the plane from hitting targets in the city.

An airstrike on Wednesday hit an industrial compound the government said was used by the Tigray forces to repair weapons.

A Tigray spokesman denied the site had military significance and said it was used to produce cars and tractors. Two other airstrikes hit the city on Monday.

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