NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) – Shaken by a shot fired around her city in Ethiopia’s northern Tigrei region, the woman decided to leave. She joined a long queue at the local government office for the travel documents. But when she reached the clerk, he told her she wasted her time.
“This is for people who fight voluntarily,” he said.
While the Ethiopian government is waging war in its Tigrei region and seeking to arrest its provocative leaders, who see the federal government as illegitimate after the fall of power, the fighting that could destabilize the Horn of Africa is hidden from view. Communications are cut off, roads are blocked and airports are closed.
But as one of the few hundred people evacuated this week by Tigrei, the woman in an interview with the Associated Press offered rare details of anger, despair and growing hunger as both sides rejected international calls for dialogue or even a humanitarian aid corridor. in the third week of deadly battles. The United Nations says food and other important things “will soon be depleted, putting millions at risk.”
With blocked deliveries across the Tigris border and frantic aid workers using a declining number of satellite phones to reach the world, it is extremely difficult to hear bills from those suffering on earth. At least several hundred people have been killed, and the United Nations has condemned “targeted attacks on civilians on the basis of their ethnicity or religion.”
The woman, an Ethiopian humanitarian expert who spoke on condition of anonymity out of concern for herself and her loved ones, gave one of the most detailed data to date on a population of about 6 million food, fuel, money and even water shortages, and without electricity as the Ethiopian army approaches the capital Tigrei every day.
“I’m telling you, people will slowly start dying,” she said.
Not all of her accounts can be verified. But the description of her passage through Tigrei’s capital, Mekele, to Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, coincides with others dropped by aid workers, diplomats, a senior university official and some of the more than 35,000 refugees who fled to Sudan since the start. of the fighting on November 4. It is connected to the AP by a foreign evacuee.
As borders, roads and airports close quickly after the Ethiopian prime minister announced that Tigrei’s forces had attacked a military base, the woman felt torn. She had a family in Addis Ababa and wanted to be with them.
The banks were closed, but her relatives gave her enough money to travel to Mekele. As she drove, she squeezed her car through makeshift stone barriers piled up by local youths. She said she did not see a fight.
In Mekele, she met friends from the university. She was shocked by what she saw. “It was a panic,” she said. The students slept in front of the university because they came from everywhere. I had nothing to feed them. Deliveries to the markets were running out.
While in Mekele, she said she heard three “bombings” against the city. The Ethiopian government has confirmed air strikes around the city. When Prime Minister Abi Ahmed in television comments told civilians in Tigray not to gather for their safety, “it was a big panic,” she said. “People said, ‘Will he bomb us completely?’ There was a lot of anger, people were pushing and saying : “I want to fight.”
When she visited a loved one at a university hospital, “a doctor said they had no medication or insulin. In general! “She said.” They were hoping (the International Committee of the Red Cross) would give them some. “
In search of a trip to Addis Ababa, she 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 organize a convoy to evacuate unnecessary staff in the Ethiopian capital, and it found a place on one of the buses. “I think I was very lucky,” she said.
But as the buses left the capital, she became frightened.
The convoy of about 20 vehicles made its way at night to the capital of the dry Afar region east of Tigrei, then through the troubled Amhara region, passing slowly from a checkpoint, not all of the security forces that staffed them reported the evacuation.
“It took a total of four days,” the woman said of the trip, which would take one day on the direct route. “I was really scared.” Tigrei’s special forces initially observed the convoy, she said. Towards the end, the federal police accompanied him. They were “very disciplined,” she said.
Now that she arrived in Addis Ababa earlier this week, she is adding her voice to growing calls for dialogue between the two governments, which are now considered illegal after the once-dominant regional party Tigrei and its members were marginalized during the reform process. two of Abiy -annual rule.
“I think they need to negotiate,” she said. “And we really need a corridor so that food and medicine can enter. What about the people?”
The prospect of dialogue seems distant. The US embassy this week told the rest of the citizens of Tigrei to take shelter if they could not get out safely.
Like other troubled families in Ethiopia and the diaspora, the woman cannot connect with other relatives. Many foreigners are still trapped in Tigre, she said.
“No one knows who is alive, who is dead,” she said. “It’s a disaster for me.”
On Thursday, she said she was able 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,” the evacuee said. “She’s a strong woman, I know that.” Her voice trembled.