Relief agencies in Ethiopia are preparing to transport aid to the country’s disputed northern Tigray region, where a month of war may have killed thousands and worsened an existing humanitarian crisis.
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The United Nations reached an agreement Wednesday with Ethiopia to provide humanitarian aid to the region, saying the deal would give aid workers access to government-controlled areas of Tigray, where federal troops have been fighting the Tigray regional government.
The pact allows food, medicine and other types of aid to be transported into the area of 6 million people for the first time since the fighting erupted on Nov. 4. Some 600,000 people in the region were already dependent on food aid before the conflict began.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed claimed victory over the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) after federal forces captured Tigray’s capital of Mekelle last weekend.
TPLF leaders, however, have established a presence in mountains surrounding the region as part of an apparent emerging guerrilla strategy.
An aid worker with sources in Tigray told Reuters that fighting continued in areas north, south and west of Mekelle.
Thousands of people are believed to have been killed in the war, which has displaced more than one million people, including 45,000 refugees who fled to neighboring Sudan.
Norwegian Refugee Council Secretary General Jan Egeland, who is visiting refugees this week at Sudan’s Um Rakuba camp, said in a statement Thursday that “Aid convoys are on standby; ready to move into Tigray and support families in need. Supplies are needed immediately as there is an acute shortage of food, medicine and other relief.”
The U.N. has been among a number of organizations calling for access to the region amid the growing humanitarian crisis after foreign workers were forced to evacuate.
Prime Minister Abiy has resisted international calls for de-escalation. Abiy’s government regards the Tigray regional government as illegitimate after months of escalating tensions as he tried to consolidate power under his newly formed Prosperity Party.
The Tigray regional government had dominated Ethiopia’s ruling coalition for more than a quarter-century.
Refugees and humanitarian workers said on Thursday some of the thousands of Rohingya being shipped to a remote island had been coerced, despite government assertions that none would be forced to go.
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Two Rohingya told Reuters their names appeared on lists compiled by government-appointed local leaders without their consent, while aid workers said officials used threats and enticements to pressure people into going.
Some refugees named as willing to go to the island were in hiding on Thursday, amid a heavy security presence at the sprawling camps.
Mohammad Shamsud Douza, the deputy Bangladesh government official in charge of refugees, said the relocation was voluntary.
“They are going there happily. No one is forced. The government has taken all measures to deal with disasters, including their comfortable living and livelihood.”
Police escorted the first group of 1,000 refugees in buses from Ukhiya in Cox’s Bazar for the journey to Chittagong port and then on to Bhasan Char – a flood-prone Bay of Bengal island that emerged from the sea 20 years ago.
“They have taken us here forcefully,” a 31-year-old man told Reuters tearfully by phone as he boarded a bus.
“Three days ago, when I heard that my family is on the list, I ran away from the block, but yesterday I was caught and taken here,” he said.
An 18-year-old woman said her husband had put their names on the list thinking it was for food rations. He fled when they were told to go to Bhasan Char, she said, adding that she is also hiding in the camp.
She was among more than 730,000 Rohingya who fled Myanmar in 2017 following a military-led crackdown that the United Nations said was executed with genocidal intent. Myanmar denies genocide and says its forces were targeting Rohingya militants who attacked police posts.
“We came here to save our lives facing different kinds of troubles and difficulties,” she said. “Why would we go to that risky island?”‘State of Panic’
Bangladesh says moving refugees who agree to go to the island will ease chronic overcrowding in its camps, which are home to more than 1 million Rohingya, members of a Muslim minority who have fled neighboring Myanmar.
A Bangladesh naval official said the first 1,500 refugees would on Friday morning leave from the port to cross to the island. The journey takes several hours.
Human Rights Watch said it had interviewed 12 families whose names were on the lists, but had not volunteered to go, while Refugees International said the move was “nothing short of a dangerous mass detention of the Rohingya people in violation of international human rights obligations.”
Two aid workers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said refugees had come under pressure from government officials who used threats and offers of cash and other enticements to persuade them to go to the island.
A briefing note by a humanitarian organization, seen by Reuters, said refugees were promised to be given priority to go back to Myanmar when repatriation took place, priority to be resettled in third countries, and access to education.
“We’re deeply concerned about how this is unfolding, particularly in terms of continuity of care for some of our patients,” one of the aid workers said.
The worker cited a case of a refugee with a mental health condition in a “state of panic” after being told he had to move and his concerns over where he would get his medication on the island.
A senior foreign ministry official, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said the refugees were being moved because there was little prospect of repatriating them to Myanmar.
The United Nations said in a statement it had been given “limited information” about the relocations and was not involved in preparations.
More than 300 refugees were brought to the island earlier this year after several months at sea in an attempt to flee Bangladesh. Rights groups say they are being held against their will and have complained of human rights violations.
Peruvian police seized nearly $6 million in fake U.S. bills and arrested one person believed to be part of a known gang that specializes in counterfeiting foreign money.Police announced on Wednesday the phony bills, mostly in denominations of $10’s and $20’s, were found inside a building in Lima’s Carabayllo district. They also confiscated the printing machine allegedly used to produce the fake money.Authorities says the bogus bills were going to be sent into neighboring Ecuador and Bolivia before circulating through commercial markets worldwide.Police say Peru is known for being a haven for money counterfeiters.
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A humanitarian aid worker and two local officials have been abducted by Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) fighters in conflict-plagued northeastern Nigeria, two security officials said Wednesday.Jihadists kidnapped them at a checkpoint in the village of Wakilti in Borno state on Monday, the sources told AFP, in the latest incident in a region that has been in the grip of an Islamist insurgency for more than a decade.”The hostages included two local officials and an aid worker, but it is not clear which organization he works for,” one security source said.The two officials were returning to the regional capital, Maiduguri, from the town of Mobbar, where they had gone for local elections held on the weekend, the second source said.In June, five humanitarian workers were killed a few days after being abducted by ISWAP, whose stronghold is on the edge of Lake Chad.The local elections in Borno state were the first held since Boko Haram launched its insurgency in 2009.In the bloodshed since, more than 36,000 people have been killed and over 2 million have fled their homes.In 2016, Boko Haram splintered into two groups, the Islamic State-affiliated ISWAP and one that remained loyal to historic leader Abubakar Shekau.The U.N. said the country’s most violent attack took place Saturday, when Boko Haram fighters said they killed nearly 80 farmers in a rice field not far from Maiduguri, slitting the throats of many of the victims. Although officials initially said that 43 people had been killed in the attack, the U.N. later said searchers had recovered more bodies.
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Human Rights Watch accused Azerbaijani forces Wednesday of brutalizing some Armenian troops captured in the conflict over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.Acts of mistreatment were captured on video and circulated on social media over the past two months, HRW said.The rights group said in a statement the videos show “Azerbaijani captors variously slapping, kicking and prodding Armenian POWs” and forcing them to “kiss the Azerbaijani flag,” praise Azerbaijan’s president, swear at Armenia’s prime minister “and declare that Nagorno-Karabakh is Azerbaijan.”HRW official Hugh Williamson said humanitarian law requires that POWs be protected, and he called on Azerbaijani authorities to immediately end the inhumane treatment.Ethnic Armenian soldiers sit in a military truck on a road during the withdrawal of troops from the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Nov. 19, 2020.The number of POWs in custody is unknown but HRW, citing Armenian officials, estimated the number is in the “dozens.” Azerbaijan’s response to the HRW report was not immediately available.The report acknowledged that some of the prisoners depicted in the videos have since communicated with their families and said they are being treated well, but it said there remain serious grounds for concern about their safety and well-being.HRW also said Armenia has captured Azerbaijani troops and that it is investigating videos on social media that apparently show Azerbaijani POWs being abused.Armenia signed a Russian-brokered deal with Azerbaijan on November 9 after six weeks of intense fighting.The fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia erupted September 27, marking the biggest escalation of the decades-old conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region since a 1994 cease-fire.The predominantly ethnic Armenian territory declared its independence from Azerbaijan in 1991 during the collapse of the Soviet Union, sparking a war in which as many as 30,000 people died before a 1994 cease-fire was declared. That independence, however, is not internationally recognized.
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Presidential candidate Bobi Wine filed a complaint with Uganda’s election commission after police fired tear gas and rubber bullets Tuesday at his supporters, sending at least five to the hospital.In a three-hour closed-door meeting Wednesday with the commission, Wine, a singer-turned-politician whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, said he had to briefly halt his campaign because of police attacks on him and his supporters.The meeting was held under heavy security, with police and military personnel surrounding the commission offices.Wine said he went to the Electoral Commission because it had been silent since police arrested him last month, just after he entered the presidential race.Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Wine shared photos of what he said were police and soldiers brutalizing his supporters.“These are the people that are being shot dead by the police and the military and some goons, that move around with guns but in plain clothes,” he said. “These are the scenes of our campaign meetings marred with violence, tear gas and live bullets.”A man peers through the shattered windscreen of the car of Ugandan pop star and presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, also known as Bobi Wine, in Jinja, near Kampala, Uganda, Dec. 1, 2020.Wine said he made several requests to the Electoral Commission.”We wanted to tell the Electoral Commission that the police and the military are trying to kill us,” he said. “We have tasked them to take charge or resign. We’ve asked them to prevail over the police and the military — to tell them to keep out of this election, especially the military. We have asked them to ask the police to stop blocking the roads for us.”Authorities have accused Wine and his party of violating COVID-19 restrictions with large gatherings.Electoral Commission Chairman Simon Byabakama said Wednesday that every candidate must commit to complying with and abiding by the measures put in place by the commission to prevent the spread of COVID-19.Regarding the violence, Byabakama said, “We have also committed to ensuring that the heightened environment is mitigated. And one of those ways is for both parties to take responsibility. Therefore, I do not see why security will have to come in with a strong hand in order to enforce these guidelines when the people are compliant.”Wine is scheduled to resume his campaign Thursday in eastern Uganda. He is one of 10 candidates challenging longtime President Yoweri Museveni in the January 14 election.
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