UN: Ethiopia's conflict has 'appalling' impact on civilians

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Tigray refugees who fled a conflict in the Ethiopia's Tigray region, receive treatment at a clinic run by MSF (Doctors Without Borders) in Village 8, the transit center near the Lugdi border crossing, eastern Sudan, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

NAIROBI – Ethiopia's situation is “spiraling out of control with appalling impact on civilians” and urgently needs outside monitoring, the United Nations human rights chief warned Wednesday. But Ethiopia is rejecting calls for independent investigations into the deadly fighting in its Tigray region, saying it “doesn’t need a baby-sitter."

And the U.N. secretary-general announced a new agreement with Ethiopia on badly needed humanitarian aid, a day after Ethiopia said its forces had shot at U.N. staffers doing their first assessment in Tigray. Antonio Guterres said joint assessments will occur “to make sure that there is full access to the whole of the (Tigray) territory and full capacity to start humanitarian operations."

But it isn't the “unfettered,” neutral access the U.N. has sought for weeks.

There are growing calls for more transparency into the month-long fighting between Ethiopian forces and those of the fugitive Tigray regional government that is thought to have killed thousands, including civilians. At least one large-scale massacre has been documented by human rights groups, and others are feared.

Senior government official Redwan Hussein told reporters on Tuesday evening that Ethiopia will invite assistance only if it feels “it failed to investigate.” To assume it can’t conduct such probes “is belittling the government,” he said.

Frustration is growing as the northern Tigray region remains largely cut off from the world, with food and medicines needed by the population of 6 million — some 1 million now thought to be displaced.

Most communications and transport links remain severed, hiding the extent of atrocities committed since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Nov. 4 announced that fighting had begun with the Tigray People's Liberation Front. The TPLF dominated Ethiopia’s government for nearly three decades before he came to power and sidelined it.

Each government now regards the other as illegal, as the TPLF objects to the postponement of national elections until next year because of the COVID-19 pandemic and sees Abiy’s mandate as expired.