NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) – Shaken by the shot that erupted around her town in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, the woman decided to get out. She joined a long line at the local government office to get the paperwork needed to travel. But when she reached the official, he told her she had wasted her time.
“This is for people who volunteer,” he said.
As the Ethiopian government wage war in the Tigray region and seeks to arrest its defiant leaders, who consider the federal government illegal after an outburst over power, the struggles that can destabilize the Horn of Africa are hidden from the outside. Communication has been cut off, roads blocked and airports closed.
But as one of the few hundred people evacuated this week from Tigray, the woman in an interview with The Associated Press offered rare details of anger, desperation and growing hunger, as both sides reject international calls for dialogue or even a humanitarian corridor for help in their third week of deadly fighting. The United Nations says food and other essentials “will soon be exhausted and endanger millions.”
With supplies blocked at Tigray’s borders and hectic aid workers using a dwindling number of satellite phones to reach out to the world, it’s extremely difficult to hear accounts from those suffering on earth. At least several hundred people have been killed and the UN has condemned “targeted attacks on civilians based on their ethnicity”. or religion. ”
The woman, an Ethiopian aid expert who spoke on condition of anonymity out of concern for herself and her loved ones, gave one of the most detailed accounts yet of a population of about 6 million who lacked food, fuel, cash and even water and without electricity , as the Ethiopian army marches closer to the Tigray capital every day.
“I’m telling you, people will slowly start dying,” she said.
Not all of her accounts could be verified. But the description of her passage through the Tigray capital, Mekele, to Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, matched with others who have run from aid workers, diplomats, a senior university official and some of the more than 30,000 refugees who have fled into Sudan after the fighting began on 4 November. She was linked to the AP by a foreign evacuee.
As borders, roads and airports closed quickly after Ethiopia’s prime minister announced that Tigray forces had attacked a military base, the woman felt torn. She had family in Addis Ababa and wanted to be with them.
The banks had closed, but loved ones gave her enough money to travel to Mekele. While driving, she squeezed her car through makeshift barriers of stone stacked by local youth. She said she did not look giant.
In Mekele, she met with friends around the university. She was shocked by what she saw. “It was a panic,” she said. “Students slept outside the university because they had come everywhere.” There was little to feed them. The supplies in the markets were running out.
While in Mekele, she said, she heard three “bombings” against the city. The Ethiopian government has confirmed airstrikes around the city. When Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in televised comments told civilians in Tigray not to rally for their safety, “it was a great panic,” she said. “People said, ‘Should he bomb us completely?’ There was tremendous anger, people pushed and said, ‘I want to fight.’ “
When she visited a loved one at a university hospital, a doctor said they have no medicine, no insulin. At all! “She said.” They hoped (the International Committee of the Red Cross) would give them something. “
She sought to travel on to Addis Ababa and found fuel on the black market, but was warned that her car could be a target. But the UN and other aid groups had managed to arrange a convoy to evacuate non-essential staff to the Ethiopian capital, and she found a seat on one of the buses. “I think I was pretty lucky,” she said.
But when the buses pulled out of the capital, she was scared.
The convoy of about 20 vehicles made its way through the night to the capital of the arid Afar region east of Tigray, then through the restive Amhara region and went slowly from checkpoint to checkpoint, not all security forces manning them briefed on the evacuation.
“It took a total of four days,” said the woman about the journey, which would have taken a day with the direct route. “I was really scared.” Tigray’s special forces initially monitored the convoy, she said. Near the end, federal police accompanied it. They were “very disciplined,” she said.
Arriving in Addis Ababa earlier this week, she adds her voice to the growing calls for dialogue between the two governments, which now consider each other illegal after the once dominant regional Tigray party and its members were marginalized under Abiy’s reformist two. -year rule.
“I think they should negotiate,” she said. “And we really need a corridor so food and medicine can come in. What about the people?”
The prospect of dialogue looks distant. The U.S. embassy this week asked citizens staying in Tigray to have shelter in place if they could not get out safely.
Like other concerned families in Ethiopia and the diaspora, the woman cannot reach her bereaved relatives. Many foreigners are still trapped in the Tigray, she said.
“No one knows who is alive, who is dead,” she said. “This is a disaster for me.”
On Thursday, she said she managed to talk to a university friend in Mekele. The university was hit by an air strike. More than 20 students were injured.
“She was crying,” said the evacuee. “She’s a strong woman, I know that.” Her voice shook.