UN says large quantities of food looted in northern Ethiopia

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Large quantities of U.N. food earmarked for malnourished people in northern Ethiopia have been looted from warehouses, reportedly by elements of Tigrayan forces and the local population, the United Nations said Wednesday.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the small-scale theft of food from warehouses in the town of Kombolcha in the Amhara region escalated to mass lookting of warehouses across the Kombolcha area in recent days.

In addition, he said three U.N. World Food Program trucks used for humanitarian operations were commandeered by military personnel for their own use on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Dujarric said the exact amount of food that was stolen from the warehouses is still being determined, but it included nutritional items for malnourished children.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed since November 2020 when a political falling-out between Tigray forces in the north who long dominated the national government and the current administration of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed erupted in fighting.

Tigray forces in recent months have retaken the Tigray region and brought the fighting into the neighboring Amhara and Afar regions. The government declared a state of emergency in November as Tigray fighters moved closer to Addis Ababa. The U.N. says more than 2 million people are now displaced overall.

Dujarric said an estimated 9.4 million people across Tigray, Amhara and Afar “are now in critical need of food assistance.”

He said WFP personnel on the ground were unable to prevent the looting of the warehouses “in the face of extreme intimidation, including staff being held at gunpoint.”

As a result, Dujarric said, WFP has suspended food distributions in the towns of Kombolcha and Dessie.

“We strongly condemn all of thes incidents and reiterate our calls to all parties to the conflict to respect and protect humanitarian relief personnel and objects, in line with their obligations under international humanitarian law,” he said. “It is prohibited to attack, destroy, misappropriate, or loot relief supplies, installations, materials, units or vehicles.”

Dujarric said the incidents “will further worsen malnutrition and prolong food insecurity in northern Ethiopia,”

He stressed that harassment by armed forces of humanitarian workers who face growing challenges to help hungry people “is unacceptable and undermines the ability of the United Nations and all of our humanitarian partners to deliver assistance when it is most needed.”

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