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UN raises alert over humanitarian crisis, possible war crimes in Ethiopia conflict
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UN raises alert over humanitarian crisis, possible war crimes in Ethiopia conflict

The UN High Commission for Refugees warned Tuesday of a growing humanitarian crisis in northern Ethiopia where armed conflict between the federal government forces and local Tigrayan forces broke out on November 10.

Spokesperson Babar Baloch told a press briefing in Geneva that more than 27,000 refugees have fled into neighboring Sudan since the outbreak of hostilities with more pouring across the border daily.

“Women, men and children have been crossing the border at the rate of 4,000 per day since 10 November, rapidly overwhelming the humanitarian response capacity on the ground,” Baloch said.

“Refugees fleeing the fighting continue to arrive exhausted from the long trek to safety, with few belongings. UNHCR, with its partners, is supporting the Sudanese government in its response.”

Ethiopia on November 10 sent in its security forces to the autonomous, mountainous region of about 5 million Tigray people accusing the Tigray People’s Liberation Front of treason. This was reportedly after government barracks in the region were attacked.

Last week UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said independent investigations should be carried out to establish if war crimes had been committed after Amnesty International warned of civilian killings in the Mai-Kadra area of Tigray.

“We have confirmed the massacre of a very large number of civilians, who appear to have been day labourers in no way involved in the ongoing military offensive. This is a horrific tragedy whose true extent only time will tell as communication in Tigray remains shut down,” Diprose Muchena, Amnesty’s director for the east and southern African region, said.

The rights advocacy group said it relied on photographs of dead bodies in the streets that were examined by its Crisis Evidence Lab, and eyewitness accounts.

Many of the victims, it said, appeared to have been stabbed.

Bachelet said the alleged violations would be probed but priority should be on cessation of hostilities.

“If confirmed as having been deliberately carried out by a party to the current fighting, these killings of civilians would of course amount to war crimes, and there must be an independent investigation and full accountability for what has happened,” she said.