The medical charity Doctors Without Borders said on Friday it was “horrified by the brutal murder” of three colleagues in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, the latest attack on humanitarian workers helping civilians in the deadly conflict there.
A statement from the aid group, also known by its French acronym MSF, said that two colleagues from Ethiopia and one from Spain were found dead on Friday, a day after their colleagues lost contact with them while traveling.
“This morning the vehicle was found empty and a few meters away, their bodies lifeless,” the statement said.
“We condemn this attack on our colleagues in the strongest possible terms and we will be relentless in understanding what happened,” added MSF, calling it “unthinkable” that the three: emergency coordinator María Hernández, assistant coordinator Yohannes Halefom Reda and driver Tedros Gebremariam Gebremichael – paid for his work with their lives.
Ethiopia FM Suggests Tigray Fighters Are To Blame
In a statement, the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry expressed its condolences for the killings it said occurred in the city of Abi Addi, and suggested that the Tigray fighters were to blame. He also called for military escorts, a thorny issue for many aid groups because Ethiopian forces, like all parties to the conflict, have been accused of abuses.
Another MSF team was attacked in March after witnessing Ethiopian soldiers pulling men out of two public buses and shooting them dead. The soldiers beat the MSF driver and threatened to kill him, the aid group said at the time.
This latest attack occurred amid some of the fiercest fighting in Tigray since the conflict began in November. This week, the Ethiopian army acknowledged carrying out an airstrike on a crowded market in Tigray that health workers said killed several dozen civilians. The army claimed it was targeting fighters.
Ethiopian soldiers detained civilian victims of airstrikes
Ethiopian soldiers detained six victims of the airstrike en route to a hospital and three were later released, a regional health official told The Associated Press, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. The three still detained – two women and a 15-year-old boy – were not receiving medical attention, the official said, adding, “This is very desperate.” It is unclear why they are being held.
The conflict in Tigray has been a major challenge for aid workers who have called for better access to the region since the fighting began, with Ethiopian forces backed by others from neighboring Eritrea persecuting former Tigray leaders.
At least 12 humanitarian workers have died since the conflict began.
900,000 people face famine conditions in Tigray
Death from starvation is another looming crisis in Tigray. On Friday, the director of the US Agency for International Development, Samantha Power, tweeted that new “terrifying” findings show that up to 900,000 people in the region now face famine conditions, “with millions more at risk.”
The United Nations warned Thursday that at least 33,000 children in inaccessible areas of Tigray “are severely malnourished and face imminent death without immediate help.”
Meanwhile, Ethiopia awaits the results of Monday’s national elections, the first test at the polls for Abiy, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019, a year after taking office. Now critics accuse him of backtracking on political reforms.
The Abiy government has said the elections would be the first free and fair in Ethiopia, the second most populous country in Africa. But on Friday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the vote “was neither free nor fair for all Ethiopians,” citing opposition boycotts, arrests of political leaders and insecurity in various parts of the country.
The statement also called for a ceasefire in Tigray and the withdrawal of Eritrean forces, who have been accused by witnesses of atrocities, including gang rapes and massacres.
In a separate statement on Friday, the European Union and 12 countries, including Britain and Japan, described “problematic conditions” regarding Monday’s elections and called for a national dialogue to reduce the escalation of the conflict.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism