The two-week long conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region is developing into a “full-scale humanitarian crisis”, the UN has said.
At least 27,000 people have so far fled to neighbouring Sudan, and the UN says its teams there are overwhelmed.
Fighting broke out after Ethiopia’s government accused the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which controls Tigray, of treason.
The TPLF sees the federal government as illegitimate.
The conflict has also reportedly killed hundreds, but getting information from the Tigray is hard as there is a virtual communications blackout.
The UN fears the numbers fleeing Ethiopia may be just a fraction of those forced from their homes by the fighting, but for the moment aid agencies have no access to the Tigray region.
Regional powers Kenya and Uganda have called for negotiations to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
The Ethiopian government has however ruled out sitting down for talks with the TPLF who it sees as a “clique” intent on destroying the country’s constitutional order.
On Tuesday Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said the military operation in Tigray was entering its “final phase”, adding that a three-day ultimatum given to armed groups in Tigray to surrender had expired.
What did the UN say?
The UN’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, said that “a full-scale humanitarian crisis is unfolding” and thousands were fleeing the ongoing fighting in Tigray region.
The agency was “on stand-by to provide assistance in Tigray when access and security allow” spokesman Babar Baloch told a Geneva news briefing.
“There may be massive displacement inside Tigray and that is of course a concern and we try to prepare the best way possible,” Jens Laerke, spokesman of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told the briefing.
What else did Mr Abiy say?
In a Facebook post he thanked TPLF fighters who took advantage of the three-day deadline to switch sides but he did not give the number of those who did.
He said that his government “is ready to receive and reintegrate our fellow Ethiopians fleeing to neighbouring countries”.
Mr Abiy also led Ethiopians in a moment to thank the federal troops who are taking part in the Tigray operation.
His Twitter account shared pictures of the event:
How bad is the violence?
Hundreds have reportedly died in Ethiopia since the fighting began, with reports of a civilian massacre emerging this week.
Human rights group Amnesty International said it had confirmed that “scores, and likely hundreds, of people were stabbed or hacked to death” in the town of Mai-Kadra (May Cadera) on Monday last week.
Prime Minister Abiy has accused forces loyal to Tigray’s leaders of carrying out the mass killings, while the TPLF has denied involvement. Ethiopia’s human rights commission said it would send a team to investigate.
Why are the government and TPLF fighting?
The TPLF dominated Ethiopia’s military and political life for decades before Mr Abiy took office in 2018 and pushed through major reforms.
Last year, Mr Abiy dissolved the ruling coalition, made up of several ethnically based regional parties, and merged them into a single, national party, which the TPLF refused to join.
The feud escalated in September, when Tigray held a regional election, defying a nationwide ban on all polls imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Mr Abiy responded by calling the vote illegal.
Tigray’s administration sees Mr Abiy’s reforms as an attempt to hand his central government more power and weaken regional states.
It also resents what it calls the prime minister’s “unprincipled” friendship with Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki.
Mr Abiy won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for his efforts to bring peace with Eritrea.
The prime minister believes TPLF officials are undermining his authority.
Mr Abiy ordered the military operation against the TPLF after he said its fighters had crossed “the last red line”.
He accused them of attacking a military camp hosting federal troops on 4 November, calling the action “treasonous”. The TPLF has denied attacking the camp.