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Thousands flee Ethiopia into Sudan as fighting escalates

By Otiato Opali in Nairobi, Kenya | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2020-11-16 20:47

Ethiopian women, who fled the ongoing fighting in Tigray region, are seen at the al-Fashqa refugee camp in the Sudan-Ethiopia border town of al-Fashqa, in eastern Kassala state, Sudan November 13, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

Thousands of refugees have fled fighting in northern Ethiopia's Tigray region and crossed into neighboring Sudan, as fears grow that conflict between national and provincial forces could prompt a serious humanitarian crisis.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the numbers of refugees crossing into Sudan from Ethiopia surpassed 20,000 on Sunday. The refugees are being temporarily sheltered in transit centers near Sudanese border entry points.

The UN and local authorities are jointly screening and registering people, as well as providing water and meals to Ethiopian men, women and children, the agency said. The UN body said it is stepping up emergency relief preparedness in the region, working with governments and partners to put in place measures to respond to more refugees as the situation evolves.

"We are urging governments in the neighboring countries to keep their borders open for people forced from their homes. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is also asking Ethiopian authorities to take steps that will allow aid to safely reach refugees and the internally displaced within Tigray," Clementine Nkweta Salami, the UN agency's regional bureau director, said on Saturday.

"With thousands of refugees arriving at the Sudanese border within the last 24 hours and with the conflict appearing to escalate, we expect those numbers to rise sharply," she added.

Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia's prime minister, launched military operations in the country's Tigray region after he accused local authorities of attacking a military camp in the region and attempting to loot military assets.

The Tigray People's Liberation Front, which is in power in the province, denies the attack and has accused the prime minister of concocting the story to justify deploying the offensive.

On Sunday Debretsion Gebremichael, the group's leader, said his forces fired a volley of rockets at neighboring Eritrea's capital, Asmara, late on Saturday. He also claimed 16 Eritrean military divisions are fighting alongside Ethiopian government troops against the group's forces.

"Those who attack Tigray will not just attack and return home. We will retaliate while they are here, and strike the airports from which they launched attacks. There is no place that we can't reach and we will continue to attack selected targets that the invading forces are using against us," Gebremichael said.

However, both the governments in Ethiopia and Eritrea have denied the claims. In a statement posted on Twitter on Sunday, Ethiopia's president said his country is capable of carrying out the military operation and does not need outside help.

"Our campaign in the Tigray region is progressing well. Those who are committing crimes against humanity and peace will be held accountable. We remain steadfast in our resolve to justice and the rule of law," Ahmed said.

"Thanks to the exceptional valor and commitment of its sons and daughters, Ethiopia is more than capable of attaining the objectives of the operation by itself," he added.

Several bodies, including the African Union and the United Nations, have condemned the violence and fighting in Ethiopia's Tigray region and called for the protection of civilian lives.

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