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UN seeks urgent access to 96,000 refugees in Eritrea as food begins to run out

The UN has urged Ethiopian officials to allow them to access some 96,000 Eritrean refugees in the country’s northern Tigray region amid reports people have run out of food as conflict rages between local leaders and the state’s government.

Over the weekend Ethiopia’s prime minister Abiy Ahmed declared victory and an end to the military offensive in Tigray after federal forces took control of the Tigray capital of Mekelle - despite claims from Tigray People’s Liberation Front leader Debretsion Gebremichael that his forces were still fighting on.

Now the UN’s refugee agency the UNHCR has urged to be allowed access to the region to access tens of thousands who had fled neighbouring Eritrea, only to find themselves caught in the civil conflict.

The refugees are believed to be running low on food supplies following the month-long conflict - with some reports claiming those who had been forced to flee Eritrea are being attacked and abducted from the camps.

“For almost two decades Ethiopia has been a hospitable country for Eritrean refugees but now we fear they are caught in the conflict”, said the UN agency’s spokesman Babar Baloch.

“UNHCR appeals to the government of Ethiopia to continue to fulfill its responsibility in hosting and protecting Eritrean refugees and allow humanitarians to access people who are now desperately in need.”

He added: “Our extreme worry is that we hear about attacks, the fighting near the camps.

“We hear about abductions and forced removals, so this is very important for us to have that access to go and see what has happened over there.”

It comes as experts warn the Ethiopia’s nearly month-long war against rebellious northern forces may be transforming into a guerrilla conflict despite Addis Ababa’s declaration of victory.

Communications and transport links into the Tigray region of six million people have been severed during the conflict, while Mr Abiy, who last year won the  Nobel Peace Prize, has rejected the idea of dialogue with the Tigray regional leaders.

“There are skirmishes continuing in many parts of Tigray and we are seeing the hallmarks of the beginning of an insurgency,” said analyst Rashid Abdi.

“The terrain, geography and history suggest this will be a long, drawn-out insurgency.”

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