By Vatican News staff writer
At least 16 United Nations local employees have been detained in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, the UN said on Tuesday, as the country's year-long war against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) continues.
The ethnicity of the detained UN staffers was not immediately clear, although there are reports of widespread arrests of ethnic Tigrayans.
UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters that the international agency was working with the Ethiopian government to ensure the release of the UN staffers.
State of emergency
Ethiopia declared a state of emergency on 2 November after forces loyal to the TPLF claimed to have seized two strategic towns, Kombolcha and Dessie. The proclamation permits the government to impose a curfew and arrest people suspected to be supporting the Tigrayan forces who have been fighting the government for the past year.
The head of the state-appointed Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, Daniel Bekele, said that the commission had received reports of arrests of Tigrayans in the capital, and was monitoring the arrests.
Ethiopian police have denied making ethnically motivated arrests, saying that they are only targeting supporters of the dissident Tigrayan forces. Some sources however say that all the detained humanitarian staffers are Tigrayan.
Early last month, the Ethiopian government expelled seven UN officials from the country, accusing them of supporting the Tigray forces, a move that drew condemnation from other nations and international agencies.
A year-long war
Envoys from the African Union (AU) and the US are working to encourage a cease-fire between Ethiopia’s government and the Tigray forces.
The conflict, which began in November last year, has intensified in recent weeks after the TPLF pushed south. The Tigrayan forces and their allies have also threatened to march on Addis Ababa.
Thousands of people have been killed in the war and millions have been displaced. The conflict situations are further exacerbated by famine-like conditions which have put millions of people at risk of starvation. The Tigray region is particularly hard-hit as government blockades have been set up to deny food, medicine and other aid from potentially reaching.
Earlier this year, the Ethiopian government designated the TPLF a terrorist group.