Hunger 'emergency' in regions bordering war-hit Tigray: UN

The UN has said roughly 400,000 people face famine-like conditions in Tigray, while the WFP said WFP's corporate response director for Tigray, said another 300,000 face 'emergency levels of hunger' in neighbouring regions

Hundreds of thousands of civilians face "emergency levels of hunger" in two regions that were recently drawn into the violent conflict in northern Ethiopia, the UN said Monday.

The warning from the World Food Programme (WFP) came as the war continued to expand and officials reported fresh civilian casualties in the two regions, Amhara and Afar.

Northern Ethiopia has been wracked by fighting since November, when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops to topple the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), the then-ruling party of the northernmost Tigray region.

The move came in response to TPLF attacks on army camps, said Abiy, the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Although he promised a swift victory, the war took a stunning turn in June when Tigrayan forces recaptured Tigray's capital Mekele and the Ethiopian army largely withdrew.

Since then the TPLF has pushed east into the neighbouring Afar region and south into Amhara.

Civilians in those regions are "falling deeper into hunger as a result of the conflict," Michael Dunford, WFP's corporate response director for Tigray, said Monday in a statement that put the total number of people facing "emergency levels of hunger" in those regions at 300,000.

In Tigray itself, the UN has previously said roughly 400,000 people face famine-like conditions.

- Fresh fighting -

Last week the TPLF seized control of Lalibela, a town in northern Amhara that is home to 12th-century rock-hewn churches that are a UNESCO World Heritage site.

On Monday Gizachew Muluneh, a spokesman for the Amhara government, said there was "very strong fighting" in the town of Woldiya, a critical crossroads on the way north towards Tigray, south towards the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, east towards Djibouti and west towards the Amhara capital Bahir Dar.

TPLF fighters had deployed heavy weapons in civilian areas, Gizachew said, adding: "The amount of casualties is under investigation. Some civilians are already killed and some houses are already destroyed."

The TPLF has denied causing civilian casualties and says it wants only to secure roads in northern Amhara so it can prevent government forces from regrouping.

Separately, the head of the UN children's agency UNICEF, Henrietta Fore, said Monday she was "extremely alarmed by the reported killing of over 200 people, including more than 100 children, in attacks on displaced families" in Afar last Thursday.

"Crucial food supplies were also reportedly destroyed in an area that is already seeing emergency levels of malnutrition and food insecurity," Fore said.

Her statement, however, did not specify where the killings took place or who might have been responsible, and UNICEF did not immediately respond to requests for details Monday.

An Ethiopian government Twitter account on Monday linked to the statement and said the victims were "killed by the terrorist group TPLF".

But TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda said on Twitter late Monday that Fore's statement was "quite alarming", denying responsibility and vowing to "work with relevant bodies" on any investigation.