Ethiopian airstrikes in Tigray force UN flight to turn backFriday, October 22, 2021
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Ethiopian military airstrikes on Friday forced a United Nations humanitarian flight to abandon its landing in the capital of the country's Tigray region.
A government spokesman has since said authorities were aware of the inbound flight and that the airstrike appeared to be a sharp escalation in intimidation tactics authorities have used against aid workers amid the intensifying, year-long Tigray war.
Ethiopian government spokesman Legesse Tulu told the AP, authorities were aware the UN flight was in the area but said the UN and military flights had a “different time and direction.” It wasn't immediately clear how close the planes came to each other.
Tigray forces spokesman Getachew Reda in a tweet said “our air defense units knew the UN plane was scheduled to land and it was due in large measure to their restraint it was not caught in a crossfire.” He suggested that Ethiopian authorities were “setting up the U.N. plane to be hit by our guns.”
Further UN flights have been suspended to Mekele, the base of humanitarian operations in Tigray, the World Food Program told The Associated Press. It said the flight with 11 passengers had been cleared by federal authorities but “received instructions to abort landing by the Mekele airport control tower.”
It safely returned to Addis Ababa.
The friction between the government and humanitarian groups is occurring amid the world's worst hunger crisis in a decade, with close to a half-million people in Tigray said to be facing famine-like conditions. The government since June has imposed what the UN calls a “de facto humanitarian blockade” on the region of some 6 million people, and the AP has reported that people have begun to starve to death.
Meanwhile, the UN says just 1 percent of the targeted 5.2 million people in urgent need received food aid between October 7 and 13. Now the airstrikes that began this week in Mekele have halted aid deliveries, humanitarian spokeswoman Gemma Connell told reporters, saying “not a single truck” has entered Tigray since Monday.