By Michelle Nichols
NEW YORK (Reuters) – The U.N. children’s agency on Monday accused Ethiopian government troops of dismantling satellite equipment in UNICEF’s office in the country’s Tigray region and violating international humanitarian law and immunities of the world body.
“We are not, and should never be, a target,” UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said in a statement.
“UNICEF’s priority in Tigray, and across Ethiopia, is to help the most vulnerable children, including the 140,000 children already facing famine-like conditions,” she said.
The Ethiopian prime minister’s spokeswoman and the head of the government’s emergency task force on Tigray did not immediately respond to phone calls and messages requesting comment on UNICEF’s accusations.
An analysis by U.N. agencies and aid groups has found that more than 350,000 people in Tigray are suffering famine conditions – the worst catastrophic food crisis in a decade. Ethiopia’s government has disputed the analysis.
Most of the 5.5 million people in Tigray need food aid. Fighting broke out in the region in November between government troops and the region’s former ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Troops from neighboring Eritrea also entered the conflict to support the Ethiopian government.
The violence has killed thousands of civilians and forced more than 2 million from their homes in the mountainous region.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus accused authorities in Ethiopia last week of blocking ambulances from reaching scores of victims of a deadly air strike.
Aid workers have also been killed during the conflict.
Three people working for the Spanish branch of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) were killed by unknown assailants in Tigray, the medical charity said on Friday. Ethiopia’s foreign ministry sent condolences via Twitter but said it had been urging aid groups to secure military escorts in the area.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)