Humanitarian access a must in Tigray – Biden


US President Joe Biden called for withdrawal of Eritrean and Amhara forces from Ethiopia’s Tigray region and wants immediate humanitarian access granted to avoid widespread famine in the conflict-torn area.

Thousands were killed and about two million people forced from their homes in Tigray after conflict erupted between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and the Ethiopian military last November. Troops from neighbouring Amhara and Eritrea entered to support the government.

“Belligerents in the Tigray region should declare and adhere to a ceasefire and Eritrean and Amhara forces should withdraw,” Biden said in a statement.

The president said Ethiopian and Eritrean forces “must allow immediate, unimpeded humanitarian access in order to prevent widespread famine.”

The UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs said 91% of Tigray’s population of six million were in need of aid.

UN aid chief Mark Lowcock urged the Security Council “to take any steps possible to prevent famine occurring,” according to a note seen by Reuters.

“It is clear people living in the Tigray region now face significantly heightened food insecurity as a result of conflict and conflict parties are restricting access to food,” Lowcock told the 15-member council in the note.

“There is a serious risk of famine if assistance is not scaled up in the next two months,” he said.

Biden said large-scale human rights abuses were taking place in Tigray, including “widespread sexual violence.”

US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeff Feltman will return to the region next week, Biden said.

Ethiopia said last week it put soldiers on trial for killing civilians and rape, although court records are not yet public. On Wednesday, government accused the TPLF of killing or kidnapping 42 members of the federally-appointed interim administration in Tigray.

This week, residents reported Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers raided camps for displaced people in Shire, removing hundreds of civilians.