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UN worries about humanitarian situation in Tigray ahead of Security Council meeting

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Ethiopian refugees who fled fighting in Tigray province are pictured at the Um Rakuba camp in Sudan’s eastern Gedaref province, on November 19, 2020. – Sudan — one of the world’s poorest countries, now faced with the massive influx — has reopened the camp, 80 kilometres (50 miles) from the border. It once housed refugees who fled Ethiopia’s 1983-85 famine that killed over a million people. (Photo by ASHRAF SHAZLY / AFP)

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed concern in a statement Tuesday about the humanitarian situation in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, saying “urgent steps” must be taken.

The Security Council will meet Wednesday to discuss the topic, according to diplomats.

Ireland, Estonia, France, Norway, Britain and the United States requested the closed-door meeting, the diplomats said.

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“The Secretary-General remains seriously concerned over the situation in the Tigray region of Ethiopia,” Guterres’s statement said Tuesday.

He emphasized the need for the partnership between the Ethiopian government and the UN to alleviate civilian suffering.

Guterres called for “continued urgent steps to alleviate the humanitarian situation and extend the necessary protections to those at risk.”

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The UN chief also welcomed Ethiopia’s positive reception of recent visits by the high commissioner for refugees Filippo Grandi, undersecretary-general for security and safety Gilles Michaud and the executive director of the World Food Program, David Beasley.

Two refugee camps in northern Tigray, Hitsats and Shimelba, which are near the conflict, are still not accessible to either the UN High Commission on Refugees nor the Ethiopian agency in charge of aid for these populations.

The UN is particularly worried about the possibility of targeted assassinations or kidnappings by Eritrean soldiers, whose presence in Tigray is widely reported, despite denials from Addis Ababa.

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Grandi, the UNHCR head, visited Ethiopia, including the Mai Aini refugee camp, over the weekend for the first time since the conflict began in November. The camp is one of two camps in southern Tigray the UN has been able to access.

In November Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered military operations targeting leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the regional ruling party, a move he said came in response to TPLF-orchestrated attacks on federal army camps.

Abiy, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, declared victory in late November when federal forces took the Tigray capital Mekele, though leaders of the TPLF remain on the run and have vowed to fight on.

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