Ethiopian security forces shot at and detained U.N. staff members this week as they tried to access restricted zones in the northern Tigray region, a senior Ethiopian government official said on Tuesday.
The government official, Redwan Hussein, told reporters that the U.N. staffers “broke” two checkpoints and were trying to pass through a third when security forces fired upon them. The federal troops successfully stopped the U.N. workers and later detained them. They have since been released.
“They were told in some areas they were not supposed to move. But they indulged themselves in a kind of adventurous expedition,” Hussein said.
The government official said the U.N. staffers were to blame for the incident as they were trying to reach areas where “they were not supposed to go.”
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric described the report as “alarming” on Tuesday, adding that U.N. officials “are engaging at the highest level with the [Ethiopian] federal government to express our concerns and avoid any such incidents in the future.”
The Ethiopian federal government signed a deal with the U.N. on December 2 that would allow humanitarian officials access to parts of northern Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region. Aid workers say they have been unable to reach much of Tigray to deliver food and supplies to the local population despite the agreement, blaming the federal government for impeding access.
Hussein explained on Tuesday that Addis Ababa agreed to the December 2 deal based on the “belief that the UN would collaborate” with the Ethiopian government, which would in turn “call the shots” in terms of movement within the region.
“We coordinate, we lead, but we need assistance and a partner,” he said, adding that partners are not allowed to “move alone.”
“There is no such thing as unfettered access in every corner of Ethiopia,” Hussein said.
“Ethiopia is being run by a strong functional government,” he insisted. “It doesn’t need a babysitter.”
Ethiopia’s federal government launched a military campaign against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a Marxist separatist group, on November 4. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said the air and ground offensive was the government’s response to TPLF’s alleged attack on a federal military base.
The Ethiopian federal government declared victory in the conflict late last month. While the federal government claims that clashes have stopped save for some “sporadic shootings,” the TPLF insists that fighting between the two parties continues. The conflict has displaced tens of thousands of Ethiopians, most of whom have fled to neighboring Sudan.