Allegations that Tigray rebels are hiding in refugee camps in Sudan were denied by the UN on Tuesday, after Ethiopian officials said warriors had been captured with refugee ID cards.
Tens of thousands of refugees have fled across the border into Sudan since the outbreak of war ten months ago in Ethiopia’s northernmost Tigray region, exacerbating tensions between the two neighbors in the Horn of Africa.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops to Tigray to overthrow the regional governing party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, and said the move came in response to TPLF attacks on army camps.
Although the Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2019 promised a quick victory, the war has dragged on and spread to the nearby Afar and Amhara regions.
In recent days, Ethiopian officials have said that TPLF fighters recently passed from Sudan to Ethiopia with IDs issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
“The TPLF has sought to escalate the conflict by entering the Benishangul Gumuz and Amhara regions that cross the long Sudanese border,” the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry said late Monday.
“All its attempts in these areas have proved futile, but new evidence has surfaced. Some TPLF soldiers infiltrating from the Sudanese side have been captured with UNHCR ID cards.”
A UN official told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Tuesday that the UNHCR was aware of reports that Ethiopian refugees registered in Sudan were now involved in the conflict but said the agency “could not verify” them.
“Since the influx of refugees began, measures have been taken at the border and all identified armed elements seeking protection have been disarmed and separated from the civilian population,” the official said.
“Allegations of military training taking place in the refugee camps are unfounded.”
The official said the UNHCR was working to maintain the “civil and humanitarian nature of the asylum”, but it was not the role of the agency to determine whether those returning home had taken part in any fighting.
Relations between Khartoum and Addis Ababa are frosty, and the two countries are fighting the Tigray conflict, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) over the Blue Nile and Ethiopian farmers using a fertile border region as Sudan claims.
At the same time, Abi’s government and the TPLF continue to blame the alarming humanitarian situation in northern Ethiopia.
The UN says the fighting in Tigray has driven 400,000 people into starvation conditions.
Tigraya’s leaders said late Monday that 150 people died of starvation in August, warning that one million “risk dying of starvation if life-saving aid is banned in the next few days”, although these figures could not be verified independently. . .
At least eight starvation deaths were confirmed by members of an interim government appointed by Abiy who tried to administer the region before being forced out by the rebels in late June.
The TPLF has accused the Abi government of imposing an aid bloc since then, and the United Nations, the African Union and world powers such as the United States have repeatedly called for increased humanitarian access.
At a news conference on Monday, however, Muferiat Kamil, Ethiopia’s peace minister, reiterated the government’s position that the TPLF is guilty of obstructing aid deliveries.
“It is the TPLF that is suffocating the checkpoints, the humanitarian corridor, it is not us,” she said.
The World Food Program (WFP) celebrated on Tuesday that more than 100 trucks transporting food and other aid had recently arrived, the first convoy to arrive in two weeks.
“But much more is needed and this momentum must be maintained, otherwise we can not hope to deliver enough food to save millions from falling deeper into hunger,” WFP East Africa chief Michael Dunford said in a statement on Tuesday.