Categories
World News

Ethiopian PM tells African envoys he will protect civilians in Tigray

ADDIS ABABA/NAIROBI (Reuters) – Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government will protect civilians in the northern region of Tigray, he told African peace envoys on Friday, a day after he announced the military was beginning the “final phase” of an offensive there.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed meets with African Union (AU) envoys in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia November 27, 2020, in this picture obtained from social media. TWITTER/@PMETHIOPIA via REUTERS

But a statement issued after their meeting made no mention of talks with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) to end fighting that began on Nov. 4.

The government had given the TPLF until Wednesday to lay down their arms or face an assault on Mekelle, the regional capital of 500,000 people, raising fears among aid groups of extensive civilian casualties.

In a statement issued after Abiy met the African Union envoys – former presidents Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia, Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique and Kgalema Motlanthe of South Africa – the prime minister’s office said the government was committed to the “protection and security of civilians”.

The statement thanked the envoys for imparting their “wisdom, insights, and readiness to support in any way they are needed” and did not mention any plans for further discussions with them.

The envoys had been sent to Addis Ababa to help mediate in the conflict, something that Abiy had already made clear he did not want.

The prime minister, who won last year’s Nobel Peace Prize for ending a two-decade standoff with Eritrea, has said he will not talk to TPLF leaders until they are defeated or give up.

Thousands of people are already believed to have been killed following air strikes and ground fighting. The United Nations estimates 1.1 million Ethiopians will need aid as a result of the conflict.

The bloodshed has sent shockwaves through the Horn of Africa. More than 43,000 refugees have fled to Sudan. TPLF rockets have hit the capital of neighbouring Eritrea.

Related Coverage

Reuters was unable to reach the TPLF for comment on Friday morning, but two diplomats said fighting raged in several areas outside Mekelle. A resident of Mekelle said the city itself was quiet on Thursday night. The United Nations says 200 aid workers are in the city.

With phone and internet connections shut off to the region and access to the area tightly controlled, verifying claims by all sides has been impossible.

PAMPHLETS

Finance Minister Ahmed Shide said on Thursday the government was trying to make people in the city aware of the military operation.

“We have made the people of Mekelle to be aware of the operation by deploying military helicopters and dropping pamphlets in Tigrinya and also in Amharic so that they protect themselves against this,” he told France24.

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said such efforts were not akin to protecting civilians from harm.

He also said on Twitter that “with evidence mounting of atrocities committed by both sides in Ethiopia’s Tigray province, it’s essential to send in international investigators now”.

Rights investigators and civilians fleeing the conflict say fighters from both sides, including civilian militias supporting more formal security forces, have carried out mass killings. Both the government and the TPLF deny their forces were involved.

Abiy’s office said on Thursday that authorities were opening a humanitarian access route, but the U.N. said it had no information on that and the region was blocked to aid groups.

Tigrayans, who make up about 6% of Ethiopia’s 115 million population, dominated the government until Abiy took power two years ago.

Abiy pledged to unite Ethiopians and introduce freedoms after years of state repression that filled jails with tens of thousands of political prisoners. His government also put senior Tigrayan officials on trial for crimes such as corruption, torture and murder. The region saw those trials as discrimination.

Abiy’s reforms created more political space but also lifted the lid on long-repressed tensions over land and resources. In September, before the Tigray hostilities began, the U.N. migration agency IOM said conflict had displaced more than 1.2 million Ethiopians around the country.

Abiy accuses Tigrayan leaders of starting the war by attacking federal troops at a base in Tigray three weeks ago. The TPLF say the attack was a pre-emptive strike.

Tigrayan forces have large stocks of military hardware and number up to 250,000 men, experts say, while the region has a history of guerrilla resistance.

Source: Read Full Article

Categories
Business

About 90 jobs to go at Marsden Pt refinery over the next quarter

About 90 Refining New Zealand employees will be made redundant between now and the first quarter of next year.

The company made the announcement in an operational update for September/October to the New Zealand Exchange (NZX) following the completion of consultation with affected staff and their unions.

The bulk of the unionised workers belong to First Union while the rest are E Tu members.

Apart from job cuts, New Zealand’s only oil refinery, based at Marsden Pt, will also scale back production from next year after a tough time when fuel demand plummeted because of the global pandemic.

The publicly listed company will reduce production from 115,000 barrels a day to about 90,000 – the same level as in 1995 – and stop producing bitumen, a residue from petroleum distillation used for road surfacing and roofing.

“Employee consultation has been completed and approximately 90 of the company’s employees, whose roles are impacted by simplification, will depart between November and Q1 2021,” the refinery said.

In its operational update, the refinery said its net debt was $232 million at the end of October this year which was $17m lower than the last update at the end of August.

The reduced debt, it said, reflected savings from the temporary shutdown of the refinery in July/August and $13m realised from asset sales, which would be used in part to fund restructuring costs associated with the refinery simplification plans.

Discussions on the potential conversion to an import terminal is continuing.

In September, the refinery completed a safe restart after a six-week shutdown to help rebalance stocks across the country, due to the impacts from Covid on New Zealand fuel demand.

“Global refining margins remained weak during September/October, with product demand reduced due to ongoing Covid-19 impacts.

“In response to weak margins, refiners globally have lowered runs, brought forward maintenance plans and implemented some temporary or permanent closures. Although global oil demand recovered considerably from May to September, the recovery in demand slowed in October due to a resurgence of Covid-19 infections globally,” the refinery said.

Falling fuel demand during level 4 lockdown drove the company $186.4m into the red in the six months to June 30.

The interim net loss compares with a $3.5m shortfall in the same time last year.

Source: Read Full Article

Categories
World News

Ethiopian government says troops take two towns from Tigray fighters

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia/UM RAKUBA, Sudan (Reuters) – Government forces captured two towns from rebel forces in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, the government said on Friday, and Tigrayan fighters fired rockets at an airport in a neighbouring region.

The rocket attack on Bahir Dar, capital of Asmara region, raised concerns that the two-week-old conflict between the Tigrayan rebels and the central government could spiral into a wider war.

The United Nations meanwhile said it was making plans for as many as 200,000 refugees fleeing into neighbouring Sudan.

Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people have been killed and tens of thousands of refugees have already fled from fighting in Tigray as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed tries to hold his ethnically diverse nation together.

Ethiopian government forces are fighting their way towards Mekelle, the Tigrayan capital, from several directions.

In the north, Ethiopian troops took the towns of Axum and Adwa, a government statement said. They are now advancing toward the town of Adigrat, about 120 km (80 miles) north of Mekelle, the regional capital of Tigray and home to about half a million people.

“Many fighters of the junta have surrendered,” the statement said, referring to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.

Tigrayan forces were not available for comment but in a televised address, spokesman Getachew Reda said their fighters have inflicted “increasing causalties” in Raya, to the south of Mekelle.

Tigrayan fighters also “eliminated enemy forces” from Mehoni in the south and Zalambessa to the northeast, Tigrayan TV said.

Related Coverage

A government spokesman did not return calls seeking comment.

It has been impossible to verify assertions on all sides because telephone lines and internet links to Tigray have been severed since the conflict began.

Reda’s address also claimed responsibility for a rocket attack in the early hours of Friday on the airport in Bahir Dar, which Amhara authorities had announced earlier in the day.

He said it was in retaliation for bombing raids launched from there. “We will continue to target whichever airport has been used to stage an attack on Tigray,” he said.

The Amhara government’s communications office said the rockets caused no damage.

Bahir Dar, Amhara’s lakeside capital, is located hundreds of miles from the fighting in Tigray. Tigrayan refugees have told Reuters that Amhara militiamen are fighting on the government side. The two regions also have a border dispute.

HUMANITARIAN EMERGENCY

At the Um Rakuba settlement in Sudan, where aid workers are setting up a camp in the scrubland for 10,000 mainly Tigrayan refugees, those who arrived queued up for cornflour porridge and put up makeshift shelters.

FILE PHOTO: Members of Amhara region militias ride on their truck as they head to face the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), in Sanja, Amhara region near a border with Tigray, Ethiopia November 9, 2020. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo

Yohannes Gor, 28, arrived by foot after fleeing the Ethiopian town of Humera, close to the border, 10 days ago with only the clothes he was wearing.

“I live under this tree and sleep on the dirt,” he said. “I lost all trace of my family and I don’t know what happened to them.”

Aid agencies fear a humanitarian emergency in Tigray, where hundreds of thousands of people depended on relief aid even before the conflict. Refugees have crowded into boats to cross a river to Sudan, overwhelming aid groups on the other side.

Axel Bisschop of the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR told a briefing in Geneva that 31,000 refugees had already reached Sudan, surpassing a contingency plan for 20,000. “The new planning figure is around 200,000.”

UNICEF’s Sudan-based representative Abdullah Fadil worried about the impact on Sudan, already hosting 1 million refugees from other African wars.

“Our serious concern is if we do not act quickly with the resources needed…this could unravel not only Ethiopia but also Sudan,” he told the same briefing.

Ethiopia, a federation of 10 ethnic regions, was dominated for decades by Tigrayans in a TPLF-led ruling coalition, until Abiy, who is of Amhara and Oromo descent, took power two years ago. He says he aims to share authority more fairly. The TPLF accuses him of pursuing a vendetta against former officials.

The conflict erupted two weeks ago after what the government called a TPLF attack on army forces stationed in the region.

On Thursday, Tigray forces accused the government of bombing a university in the Tigray capital Mekelle. There was no immediate response from the government, although officials have said they are attacking only military targets.

A week ago, Tigray forces fired rockets at two airports in Amhara. They have also fired rockets into the neighbouring nation of Eritrea, which has a long-running enmity with the TPLF leadership. Eritrea made peace with Ethiopia in 2018, earning Abiy the Nobel Peace Prize.

Reports of ethnically motivated killings have emerged. Rights group Amnesty International documented a mass killing of civilians, many of whom appeared to be Amhara, by what it says were Tigrayan forces on Nov. 9-10. The Tigray authorities have denied this.

Refugees fleeing into Sudan have said they were targeted for being Tigrayan.

Since taking power, Abiy has freed political prisoners and loosened what was once one of Africa’s most repressive political and economic systems. But the new freedoms have been accompanied by violence as regional bosses vie for power, money and land.

Source: Read Full Article

Categories
World News

Refugee exodus to Sudan swells as war crimes feared in Ethiopia's Tigray

ADDIS ABABA/AL FASHQA, Sudan (Reuters) – The United Nations voiced concern on Friday that the conflict between Ethiopian government forces and insurgent northern leaders could spiral out of control and said war crimes may already have been committed.

On the Sudanese border, refugees who had fled the combat zone in Tigray region told of buildings wrecked by government air raids, shootings in the street and killings by machete.

The 10-day-old war has already killed hundreds, pushed thousands of civilians into Sudan, and raised fears it may draw in Eritrea or pressure Ethiopia’s commitment to an African force opposing al Qaeda-linked militants in Somalia.

It may also blemish the reputation of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for a 2018 peace pact with Eritrea and had won plaudits for opening Ethiopia’s economy and easing a repressive political system.

“There is a risk this situation will spiral totally out of control,” U.N. rights chief Michelle Bachelet said.

A massacre of civilians reported by Amnesty International would amount to war crimes if confirmed it was commiited by one of the belligerent forces, she said.

Abiy accuses the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which rules the mountainous region of more than five million people, of treason and terrorism.

Federal troops say the TPLF rose against them last week but that they have since survived a siege and recaptured the west of the region. With communications cut and media barred, there has been no independent confirmation of the state of the fighting.

The TPLF says Abiy’s government has persecuted Tigrayans and purged them from positions since he took office in April 2018, replacing a TPLF-led coalition in which he had served as a minister and head of a cyber security unit.

Related Coverage

See more stories

It terms the offensive an “invasion”.

Federal troops have been carrying out air strikes and there has been fighting on the ground since Wednesday of last week.

CIVILIAN DEATHS

Refugees described bombing by government warplanes, shooting on the streets, killings with machetes and civilian deaths.

“The bombing has demolished buildings and killed people, and I escaped, part running on foot and part in a car,” said Hayali Kassi, 33, a driver from Tigray who reached the Sudanese border town of Al-Fashqa, now hosting more than 7,000 refugees.

Abiy, who comes from Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group the Oromo, said parliament named former Addis Ababa university academic and deputy minister for science and higher education Mulu Nega, 52, as the new leader of Tigray.

There was no immediate response to Mulu’s appointment from current Tigray leader Debretsion Gebremichael, who won a local election in September despite central government orders to cancel it.

News also came on Friday that the African Union (AU) had dismissed its security head, an Ethiopian national, after Abiy’s government accused him of disloyalty.

FILE PHOTO: Members of Amhara region militias ride on their truck as they head to face the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), in Sanja, Amhara region near a border with Tigray, Ethiopia November 9, 2020. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

AU chair Moussa Faki Mahamat ordered the removal of Gebreegziabher Mebratu Melese in a Nov. 11 memo seen by Reuters after Ethiopia’s defence ministry wrote with concerns.

Horn of Africa expert Rashid Abdi said Gebreegziabher was Tigrayan and his departure from the AU post was part of the Abiy government’s efforts to sideline prominent Tigrayans.

“It also plays into the notion that this is essentially an ethnic war masked as a centre-periphery power struggle,” he said.

However, Abiy this week exhorted Ethiopians to ensure Tigrayans are not targeted. “We all must be our brother’s keeper by protecting Tigrayans,” he said.

His opening of political space since taking office in 2018 unleashed ethnic frictions in Africa’s second most populous nation of 115 million people.

LIST OF STAFF

An internal U.N. security report said Ethiopian police visited an office of the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) in Amhara region to request a list of Tigrayan staff.

The local police chief told them of “the order of identifying ethnic Tigrayans from all government agencies and NGOs”, it said. Amhara borders Tigray and its rulers back Abiy.

But the Ethiopian government said it was targeting TPLF-linked suspects, rather than Tigrayans in general, and reports of the WFP office visit were a “complete misrepresentation”.

Rights group Amnesty International has said scores and possibly hundreds of civilians were stabbed and hacked to death in Tigray on Nov. 9, citing witnesses who blamed the TPLF.

Debretsion denied that to Reuters.

More than 14,500 Ethiopian refugees – half of them children – have gone to Sudan since fighting started and aid agencies say the situation in Tigray is becoming dire. There are also concerns about a mass displacement of thousands of Eritrean refugees at a camp in Ethiopia.

In Sudan, a Reuters witness said the thousands in al-Fashqa, which lies along the banks of the Tezeke river, are mostly women and children, forced to quarrel over scarce quantities of food and water provided by the Sudanese army.

Ethiopia’s national army is one of Africa’s largest. But its best fighters are from Tigray and much of its hardware is also there, under the Northern Command.

Nearly 4,400 Ethiopian troops serve in the AU’s Somalia peacekeeping force.

Redwan Hussein, spokesman of a new State of Emergency Task Force for Tigray, said the offensive would not lead Ethiopia to withdraw peacekeepers abroad.

“No, we are even sending troops to Darfur” in Sudan, he said.

Ethiopia’s foreign minister said operations were on track and the conflict would end in a “very short” time.

Source: Read Full Article

Categories
World News

Ethiopia names new Tigray head as conflict boils

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopia sought to tighten its grip on the rebellious Tigray region on Friday by appointing a new local leader during a military offensive that has killed hundreds and shaken the wider Horn of Africa region.

Federal troops’ 10-day push against the northern state has sent refugees flooding into Sudan and raised fears it may suck in Eritrea or weaken an African force opposing Islamist militants in Somalia if Ethiopia diverts troops from there.

It may also blemish the reputation of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for a 2018 peace pact with Eritrea and had won plaudits for opening Ethiopia’s economy and easing a repressive political system.

Abiy accuses the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which rules the mountainous region of more than five million people, of treason and terrorism. They say he has systematically persecuted Tigrayans since taking office in April 2018.

The conflict began last week when Abiy says the TPLF attacked a military base, since when his army has been carrying out air strikes and ground combat which the government says has “liberated” west Tigray.

Abiy, who comes from Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group the Oromo, said parliament had named former Addis Ababa university professor and deputy minister for science and higher education Mulu Nega, 52, as chief executive of Tigray.

“The Chief Executive will recruit and appoint heads to lead executive organs of the regional state from political parties legally operating in the region,” he tweeted.

Current Tigray leader Debretsion Gebremichael, who won a local election in September despite central government orders to cancel it, has been formally accused along with other TPLF officials of treason, armed rebellion and terrorism.

They say their region has been invaded.

There was no immediate response from Debretsion or other TPLF figures to Friday’s appointment. A dissertation by Mulu, published on the web site of Twente University in the Netherlands where he obtained a doctorate in 2012, states his place of birth as Tigray.

Related Coverage

ETHIOPIAN AT AU REMOVED

News also came on Friday that the African Union (AU) had dismissed its security head, an Ethiopian national, after Abiy’s government accused him of disloyalty.

The bloc’s chair Moussa Faki Mahamat ordered the removal of Gebreegziabher Mebratu Melese in a Nov. 11 memo seen by Reuters after Ethiopia’s defence ministry wrote with concerns.

An AU official confirmed the two letters. The defence ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Horn of Africa expert Rashid Abdi said Gebreegziabher was Tigrayan and his departure from the AU post was part of the Abiy government’s efforts to sideline prominent Tigrayans.

“The purging of competent Tigrayan officials in the midst of the conflict is not good for the morale of the (security and military) services,” he said, referring also to other removals of Tigrayan officials since the military offensive began.

“It also plays into the notion that this is essentially an ethnic war masked as a centre-periphery power struggle.”

Abiy’s opening of political space since taking office in 2018 has exposed ethnic fractures in Africa’s second most populous nation of 115 million people. Before the Tigray flare-up, clashes killed hundreds and uprooted hundreds of thousands.

Communications in Tigray are cut and media have been barred, but security sources have told Reuters hundreds of combatants have been killed on both sides.

Both sides have accused each other of harming civilians.

Rights group Amnesty International said on Thursday that scores and possibly hundreds of civilians were stabbed and hacked to death in the region on Nov. 9, citing witnesses who blamed the TPLF. Debretsion denied that in comments to Reuters.

More than 11,000 Ethiopian refugees – half of them children – have gone to Sudan since fighting started and aid agencies say the situation in Tigray is becoming dire. Even before the conflict, 600,000 people there were reliant on food aid.

Ethiopia’s national army is one of Africa’s largest and highest-trained. But its best fighters are from Tigray and much of its hardware is also there, under the Northern Command.

Ethiopia hosts the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa. Nearly 4,400 Ethiopian troops serve in its Somalia peacekeeping force.

Source: Read Full Article

Categories
World News

Ethiopia claims big advance in Tigray, Amnesty reports mass killing

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopia’s military has defeated local forces in the west of Tigray state, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said on Thursday, accusing his foes of atrocities during a week of fighting that threatens to destabilise the Horn of Africa.

FILE PHOTO: Members of Amhara region militias ride on their truck as they head to face the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), in Sanja, Amhara region near a border with Tigray, Ethiopia November 9, 2020. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo

Rights group Amnesty International said scores and possibly hundreds of civilians were stabbed and hacked to death in the region on Nov. 9, citing witnesses. It said it had not been able to independently confirm who was responsible, but said the witnesses had blamed fighters loyal to Tigray’s local leaders.

Air strikes and ground combat between government forces and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) have killed hundreds, sent refugees flooding into Sudan, stirred Ethiopia’s ethnic divisions and raised questions over the credentials of Abiy, Africa’s youngest leader who won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2019.

“The western region of Tigray has been liberated,” Abiy said in a tweet. The 44-year-old leader comes from the largest ethnic group the Oromo and once fought with the Tigrayans against neighbouring Eritrea.

With communications down and media barred, independent verification of the status of the conflict was impossible. Reuters was not able to confirm either side’s version of events or Amnesty’s reports of atrocities.

There are fears the conflict may draw in Eritrea, whose government signed a peace pact with Abiy two years ago but remains hostile to the Tigrayan leadership, and weaken Ethiopia’s role in an African Union (AU) force opposing Islamist militants in Somalia.

Major conflict could also hinder foreign investment in Ethiopia’s economy, which had clocked nearly double-digit annual growth for years before the coronavirus hit and is liberalizing, with multinationals particularly eyeing the telecoms sector.

‘GAPING WOUNDS’

Amnesty said that the people killed in the town of Mai Kadra in Tigray’s southwest on the night of Nov. 9 appeared to have been day labourers who were not involved in the fighting. It cited witnesses describing bodies with gaping wounds that appeared to have been inflicted with knives or machetes.

Related Coverage

See more stories

“This is a horrific tragedy,” it said in a statement.

“Amnesty International has not yet been able to confirm who was responsible … but has spoken to witnesses who said forces loyal to the TPLF were responsible for the mass killings, apparently after they suffered defeat from the federal EDF forces,” it said.

Tigray’s leader Debretsion Gebremichael, who chairs the TPLF, denied his forces were involved.

“This is unbelievable … this should be investigated,” Debretsion said in a text message to Reuters, accusing Abiy of “creating facts on [the] ground”.

There was no immediate response to the Amnesty report from the Ethiopian government.

REFUGEES FLEE

The TPLF, which rules the mountainous northern state of more than 5 million people, announced a state of emergency against what it termed an “invasion”.

Abiy accuses the TPLF of starting the conflict by attacking a federal military base and defying his authority. The Tigrayans say they have been persecuted during his two-year rule.

Slideshow ( 4 images )

Abiy said some of his soldiers had been found dead in the town of Sheraro, shot with their legs and arms tied behind their back. “This kind of cruelty is heartbreaking,” he said.

He did not say how many bodies were found or provide proof. Reuters could not verify his allegation and there was no immediate response from the TPLF.

More than 11,000 Ethiopian refugees have crossed into Sudan since fighting started and aid agencies say the situation in Tigray is becoming dire. Even before the conflict, 600,000 people there were reliant on food aid.

The U.N. refugee agency’s representative in Ethiopia, Ann Encontre, told Reuters negotiations were under way with both sides for humanitarian corridors.

A “major emergency” may be brewing with so many people escaping to Sudan, she warned. Half of the refugees were children and some were wounded.

After taking office in 2018, Abiy was applauded for opening up a repressive political system, including freeing activists from jail and lifting bans on opposition political parties. He won his Nobel prize for the peace accord with Eritrea.

But his democratic transition was already waning even before the push on Tigray, experts say, including jailing a prominent opposition member and restricting media.

Abiy has so far resisted calls by the United Nations, the African Union and others for a ceasefire and talks.

The army said transitional rule would be set up in parts of Tigray and urged local forces to surrender.

In a wider push against the TPLF, Ethiopia’s parliament stripped 39 members, including Gebremichael, of immunity from prosecution.

Police said they had arrested 242 TPLF activists suspected of plotting attacks in Addis Ababa. Weapons including bombs and bullets were also confiscated, the city’s police chief said.

Also in the capital, volunteers lined up at a stadium to donate blood for injured armed forces members. Some waved the Ethiopian national flag.

Source: Read Full Article