WORLD / AFRICA
Ethiopia detains 72 UN drivers
War-torn northern region becomes more treacherous
Published: Nov 11, 2021 05:13 PM
Addis Ababa city police officers are seen during a parade to present the new logo and uniforms of Ethiopian police force at Meskel Square in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, June 19, 2021.(Photo: Xinhua)

Addis Ababa city police officers are seen during a parade to present the new logo and uniforms of Ethiopian police force at Meskel Square in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, June 19, 2021.(Photo: Xinhua)

The UN said Wednesday that Ethiopia had detained 72 aid drivers to the conflict-torn north, the latest roundups despite an international push to end a brutal war.

The news, which came a day after the UN reported the arrests of employees in the capital Addis Ababa, is likely to further inflame tensions with the government following a decision in September to expel seven senior UN officials for "meddling" in the country's internal affairs.

A UN spokesperson said the latest detentions targeted contract drivers for the World Food Programme (WFP) in the capital of Afar province, on the only functional road leading into famine-threatened Tigray.

"We confirm that 72 outsourced drivers contracted by WFP have been detained in Semera. We are liaising with the government of Ethiopia to understand the reasons behind their detention," a UN spokesperson said. 

At the world body's headquarters, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said, "We are calling for their release."

He said that at least nine UN staff members also remained in custody in Addis Ababa, a day after saying that 22 had been rounded up.

Officials last week announced a six-month nationwide emergency amid rising fears that fighters from the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) and Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) rebel groups could advance on the capital.

Lawyers say arbitrary detentions of ethnic Tigrayans - commonplace during the war - have surged since then, ensnaring thousands, with the new measures allowing the authorities to hold anyone suspected of supporting "terrorist groups" without a warrant. 

Law enforcement officials describe such detentions as part of a legitimate crackdown on the TPLF and OLA. 

Information on the ethnicity of the drivers detained in Semera was not immediately available, though the UN has in the past hired ethnic Tigrayans to transport food and other aid into Tigray.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into Tigray in November 2020 to topple the TPLF, a move he said came in response to rebel attacks on army camps.

Though the 2019 Nobel Peace laureate vowed a swift victory, by late June the TPLF had retaken most of the region including its capital Mekele.

Since then Tigray has been under what the UN describes as a de-facto humanitarian blockade.

Only 15 percent of necessary aid has been able to cross from Semera into Tigray since mid-July, with hundreds of thousands of people living in famine-like conditions, according to UN estimates.

AFP
blog comments powered by Disqus