UN suspends food distribution in two Ethiopian towns after looting


An Ethiopian woman, who has fled the ongoing fighting in the Tigray region, holds her child under a World Food Program banner in the village of Hamdayet on the Sudano-Ethiopian border, in Kassala state, Sudan, the December 15, 2020. REUTERS / Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah / File photo

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WASHINGTON, Dec. 8 (Reuters) – The World Food Program (WFP) has suspended food distribution in the Ethiopian towns of Kombolcha and Dessie after supplies looted that staff were unable to stop due to intimidation, including understood to be detained at gunpoint, the United Nations said on Wednesday.

UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said a large amount of humanitarian food, including nutritional items for malnourished children, had been stolen and looted in Kombolcha in the Amhara region.

“The small-scale theft of food has turned into massive looting of warehouses across Kombolcha in recent days, apparently by elements of the Tigrayan forces and some members of the local population,” Dujarric told reporters.

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“Such harassment of humanitarian personnel by the armed forces is unacceptable. It undermines the ability of the United Nations and all of our humanitarian partners to provide assistance when it is most needed, ”he added.

Government spokesman Legesse Tulu and military spokesperson Col. Getnet Adane did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Looting and intimidation will exacerbate malnutrition and prolong food insecurity in northern Ethiopia, where an estimated 9.4 million people in Tigray, Amhara and Afar regions are in need of assistance crucial food, said Dujarric.

Three WFP trucks used for humanitarian operations in Amhara were requisitioned by the military and used for their own purposes this week, Dujarric said. He called on all parties to the conflict to respect and protect humanitarian personnel.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said the humanitarian disaster in northern Ethiopia remains a “top priority” for the United States. Price repeated calls for the parties to engage in negotiations to end the conflict.

“On the one hand we encourage, but on the other hand we have a set of sticks,” said Price, referring to punitive measures that can be used, such as the sanctions imposed on the Eritrean army last month. Read more

The year-long war between the federal government and the leaders of the northern Tigray region has killed thousands of civilians and forced millions to flee their homes.

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Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and Simon Lewis; Additional reporting by Maggie Fick in Nairobi; Editing by William Maclean, Lisa Shumaker and Grant McCool

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