Ethiopia has signed a deal with the United Nations (UN) to allow “unimpeded” humanitarian access to the country’s war-torn Tigray region after aid had been blocked for weeks.
Politicians and humanitarian organisations have pleaded with Ethiopia’s government to allow access to the region of around six million people amid reports of hunger and dwindling medical supplies.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said that a major hospital in Tigray is “dangerously low” on equipment as it struggles to treat the wounded from fighting around the regional capital of Mekelle.
The government shut down the mountainous region and implemented a telephone and electricity blackout after tensions with Tigray’s powerful regional government boiled over into almost a month of war.
UN humanitarian spokesman Saviano Abreu said on Wednesday that a needs assessment would begin immediately: “We are of course working to make sure assistance will be provided in the whole region and for every single person who needs it,” he said.
He added that the UN and partners would engage with “all parties to the conflict.”
The deal comes amid conflicting reports that the conflict is over. Prime minister Abiy Ahmed, who was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 2019, declared victory on Saturday after federal forces captured Mekelle.
“Our army is disciplined and victorious,” he told lawmakers on Monday.
But the leader of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), Debretsion Gebremichael, called the victory claims “propaganda” and told Reuters that rebel forces had retaken the city of Aksum.
Mr Gebremichael, a stalwart of the former regime that had ruled Ethiopia with an iron fist for almost three-decades, said he was “close to Mekelle, fighting.”
He denied the prime minister’s claims that he was in Hagere Selam, a town west of Mekelle. Mr Abiy had promised to rout the remaining TPLF rebels but experts fear the conflict could soon escalate to guerilla warfare.
A top TPLF official surrendered to the government on Tuesday while a militia leader was reportedly arrested in Sudan with $90 million in cash, large quantities of gold and two luxury cars.