People go hungry in Ethiopia's Tigray as conflict marches on

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This image made from undated video released by the state-owned Ethiopian News Agency on Monday, Nov. 16, 2020 shows Ethiopian military sitting on an armored personnel carrier next to a national flag, on a road in an area near the border of the Tigray and Amhara regions of Ethiopia. Ethiopia's prime minister Abiy Ahmed said in a social media post on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020 that "the final and crucial" military operation will launch in the coming days against the government of the country's rebellious northern Tigray region. (Ethiopian News Agency via AP)

NAIROBI – People are going hungry in Ethiopia’s rebellious northern Tigray region as roads are blocked, airports are closed and the federal government marches on its capital in a final push to win a two-week war. But residents are afraid to leave for fear of being killed, an internal assessment says.

Trucks laden with food, fuel and medical supplies have been stuck outside the region’s borders since the Nov. 4 announcement by Ethiopia's Nobel Peace Prize-winning Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed that a military offensive had begun in response to an attack by Tigray regional forces on a military base.

“At this stage there is simply very little left, even if you have money,” according to the internal assessment by one humanitarian group, seen by The Associated Press. Based on a colleague who managed to get out, it said people “will stay where they are, there is no place in Tigray where the situation is any different and they cannot cross over into the other regions of Ethiopia because of fear of what would be done to them.”

Banks in Tigray were closed for days, cutting off humanitarian cash transfers to some 1 million people, or one-sixth of the Tigray population. And even before the fighting, a locust outbreak was destroying crops.

Close to 30,000 Ethiopians have fled into neighboring Sudan, burdening villages that have been praised for their generosity, though they have little to give.

But many inside Tigray can’t or won’t leave, frightened by the threat of ethnic violence. Abiy’s office on Wednesday tried to ease those fears, saying its “law enforcement operation” against a Tigray regional leadership it regards as illegal is “primarily” targeting members of that ruling circle.

“The people of Tigray will be the first to benefit," the statement said, as senior government officials vow the fighting will end within days. Abiy’s government accuses the Tigray government of damaging bridges and digging up roads leading to its capital, Mekele, to slow the march of federal forces.

Hundreds of wounded people have been treated so far, the International Committee of the Red Cross said after visiting a handful of health centers in the Tigray and Amhara regions. More than 400 have been treated in one hospital in the Amhara city of Gondar, including “large numbers of critically injured."