UN urges Ethiopia to allow unhindered aid as hunger kills

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UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on Ethiopia’s government on Wednesday to allow the urgent delivery of humanitarian aid to millions in the country’s north “without hindrance” as UN officials report deaths from hunger.

During a UN Security Council meeting, Guterres urged Ethiopia’s government to allow “unrestricted movement of desperately needed fuel, cash, communications equipment and humanitarian supplies” into Tigray, Amhara and Afar.

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“Our colleagues on the ground are sharing increasingly alarming eye-witness testimony of the suffering - including growing accounts of hunger-related deaths,” Guterres said.

“In locations where screening has been possible, we are seeing acute malnutrition rates that remind us of the onset of the 2011 Somalia famine,” he said.

The 15-member Security Council met after the Ethiopian government last week expelled seven senior UN officials for meddling in internal affairs.

The United Nations has rejected the move and said there was no proof to back up the accusations.

Guterres it was “particularly disturbing” given the looming famine, while U.S. Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield described it as “reckless,” adding: “There’s no justification for the government of Ethiopia’s action, none at all.”

War broke out 11 months ago between Ethiopia’s federal troops and forces loyal to the TPLF, which controls Tigray.

Thousands have died, millions have fled their homes and the conflict has spilled into neighboring Amhara and Afar.

Guterres said up to 7 million people in Tigray, Amhara and Afar need help, including 5 million in Tigray where some 400,000 people are estimated to be living in famine-like conditions.

“Ethiopian children are starving. People are dying because they cannot access food, water and basic health care. This is not a situation caused by natural disaster. It is caused by those who continue to choose the path of war,” Ireland’s UN Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason told the council.

Guterres urged the Security Council to back UN aid efforts. However, any strong action by the body - such as sanctions - is unlikely as Russia and China have made clear they believe the Tigray conflict is an internal affair for Ethiopia.

China’s UN Ambassador Zhang Jun on Wednesday called for “quiet diplomacy in order to prevent a deadlock” over the expulsion of the UN officials.

Read more: Ethiopia PM Abiy Ahmed sworn in for new five-year term

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