Ethiopian PM threatens to stop food aid entering the country

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Tigrayan women and children displaced from conflict shelter in a school - Ben Curtis/AP
Tigrayan women and children displaced from conflict shelter in a school - Ben Curtis/AP

Ethiopia's Prime Minister has implied that he may stop international food aid from being delivered to the millions of people facing starvation in Tigray to decrease diplomatic pressure on the country.

"If we make sure that this thing called wheat [food aid] does not enter Ethiopia, 70 per cent of Ethiopia's problems will be solved," said Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, in a statement reported by state-owned Ethiopia Television.

"Ethiopia's problem is wheat aid. With wheat aid comes diseases. With wheat aid comes many things, many consequences. If we stop it, many of the problems will be solved," the Nobel Peace Prize winner continued.

The news comes as airstrikes reportedly hit the Tigrayan regional capital of Mekelle amid a massive Ethiopian national army offensive to crush rebellious fighters and a de facto government aid blockade on the mountainous region.

Africa's second-most populous nation has been coming under mounting pressure from Western nations to bring an end to the horrific conflict which has been raging across its northern Tigray region in the shadows of mass communications blackouts for almost a year.

But while Addis Ababa has found itself increasingly isolated from the West and other African nations and slowly bankrupted by the conflict, it has found allies in Moscow and Beijing.

In November 2020, Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed joined forces with Eritrea's dictator Isaias Afwerki to crush the heavily armed regional government of Tigray in a devastating pincer movement.

Earlier this year, the head of OCHA, the United Nations humanitarian body, told The Telegraph that starvation was being used as a weapon of war in the conflict.

In June, there was a shock turnaround in the war. Guerrilla Tigrayan rebels beat two of the largest armies in Africa out of Ethiopia's northern Tigray region and advanced into the neighbouring Amhara and Afar states.

Despite the war displacing millions, pushing hundreds of thousands in Tigray to the brink of famine and killed thousands if not tens of thousands of people, Mr Abiy has remained adamant that a military solution is the only way out. He called for the mass mobilisation of all able-bodied citizens in August.

The UN says that Tigray needs about 500 trucks of life-saving assistance every week, but less than 10 per cent of that has been met over the last six months. The lack of supplies is thought to be due to the blockade, the harassment of drivers and a shortage of fuel.

Last week Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, warned of the dire situation.

"Fuel shortages, a continuing communications black-out and other challenges make it difficult to assess the exact extent of the need. But we are seeing acute malnutrition rates, at levels comparable to those we saw at the onset of the 2011 Somalia famine."

Last week, the UK announced that it would spend an extra £29m of humanitarian aid to people affected by conflict in northern Ethiopia. The UK has already provided more than £75m to alleviate the risk of famine, making it the second-largest aid donor to Ethiopia.

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