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Aid group says colleague ‘murdered’ in Ethiopia’s conflict

AP, NAIROBI, Kenya — A Dutch aid group said Wednesday that one of its staff members was “murdered” at a refugee camp during the conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, bringing the number of humanitarian workers killed during the nearly two months of unrest to five.

ZOA International did not say when the 52-year-old staff member was killed at the Hitsats refugee camp, part of a network of camps hosting nearly 100,000 refugees from Eritrea close to the Eritrean border. The group did not immediately respond to questions, including about who it thinks is responsible for the death of its worker.

ZOA International said it was “deeply shocked” by the killing in the conflict between Ethiopian forces and allied militias and forces of the Tigray region, whose leadership dominated the country’s government for nearly three decades before being sidelined by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed since 2018.

The killings of four other workers for humanitarian organizations were reported on Dec 11. The International Rescue Committee said it was trying to confirm details around the killing of a colleague in the Hitsats camp.

Separately, the Danish Refugee Council said three staffers who worked as guards at a project site were killed. It was not clear where, but the group also supports Eritrean refugees.

The fate of the refugees, and the alleged involvement of Eritrean forces in the conflict, have been a major source of alarm since the fighting in Tigray began on Nov. 4 and the region was cut off from the outside world. Thousands of the refugees fled the camps, but Ethiopia’s government earlier this month said it was sending them back, causing international shock.

Even now, communications and transport links have not fully resumed, and the United Nations and other aid groups have expressed concern about reports of ongoing fighting in the weeks since Abiy declared victory.

While international aid reached at least two of the refugee camps last week, it is not clear whether Hitsats can yet be reached.

Ethiopia’s government has denied the persistent allegations of Eritrean forces’ involvement in the fighting, while the United States has said it believes Eritrean forces are active and called it a “grave development.”

The Eritrean government, described by watchdogs as one of the world’s most repressive, has remained largely silent.

“Eritrea’s detractors continue to indulge in mindless invective against the country,” Information Minister Yemane Gebremeskel tweeted Wednesday, without providing details.

No one knows how many thousands of people, including civilians, might have been killed in Ethiopia’s conflict. More than 50,000 people have fled into Sudan as refugees.

A U.N. World Food Program spokesperson this week said the agency had no confirmed reports of people dying from hunger in the two refugee camps its representatives finally reached last week, but called the situation there “dire.”

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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