UN suspends aid in Ethiopia after attacks on people

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Residents accuse government forces of deliberately targeting humanitarian workers

United Nations officials have suspended food distribution in two Ethiopian towns in the border region of Gambella after residents accused the government of deliberately targeting humanitarian workers.

Activists said about 20 people killed by Ethiopian forces and local militias on Monday and Tuesday in Gambella in an operation against the Ogaden National Liberation Front, a rebel group that has waged a decades-long insurgency against the government.

Mahmoud Mahmood, the US special envoy to the African Union, said the body was gathering the facts and that the government had promised it would end the hostilities.

“We are having consultations with all of our partners, trying to figure out whether or not the Ethiopian operation is more of a humanitarian crisis or a government operation.”

Jonathan Veitch, the UN under-secretary general for emergency and disaster management, said the staff were not targeted, but that military and other personnel had been involved in the operation.

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Veitch said it was not yet known how much aid had been affected, but it would require an assessment.

He said the suspension of aid did not signal a deterioration in the humanitarian situation.

“It is not putting pressure on us … it is better to do the assessment,” he said.

Humanitarian workers said they had been attacked over the past two weeks and that food aid, water and sanitation were running low.

“Our teams are reporting that the army are conducting operations and engaging in arbitrary detentions, forced evictions and extrajudicial killings,” said Marta Luciani, a spokeswoman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

People, many of them having been displaced by fighting and other crises in the area, had been told by police and Ethiopian security forces to vacate their homes, Luciani said.

“The people that were displaced are some of the poorest in the country,” she said.

Human Rights Watch said Ethiopian forces had been holding ethnic Oromo from the town of Waza without access to a hospital.

“The brutal siege of Waza appears to be part of a renewed ‘war on terror’ designed to harass and repress Oromo people in Gambella and Waza,” said Daniel Bekele, a researcher for Human Rights Watch.

At least two volunteers with the agency World Vision were killed in Nautujo village, some 20 miles from town, and it was not clear whether they had been targeted, said Elizabeth Donnelly, a spokeswoman for the agency.

The group, based in the capital, Addis Ababa, had been delivering food, water and sanitation assistance, she said.

At least one man was killed when he was shot in Nautujo, Donnelly said.

She said it was the agency’s first reported loss of life since it began its work in Gambella in 2013.

The Ethiopian government said it was fighting those that it said have been fighting against the government, but denounced the behaviour of the armed opposition and the anti-government protests that have flared in Ethiopia since 2015.

The Gambella operation was part of a military operation near the Somali regional state in which soldiers were responding to attacks in a series of villages, said defence ministry spokesman Gebregziabher Gebremariam.

He said Ethiopian troops have been fighting the Ogaden National Liberation Front since 2010 and that clashes occurred over the past two days after rebels crossed the border from Somalia.

The government claimed the militant group targeted residents, broke into homes and looted food supplies.

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