A United Nations aircraft was forced to abort a landing in Mekelle, the capital of the Tigray region of Ethiopia, amid Ethiopian government airstrikes, according to a Friday UN press briefing.
“As many of you are now aware, a UN humanitarian flight that departed Addis Ababa this morning was forced to turn back in the midst of its flight after air strikes began in Mekelle. I can confirm that the Government was informed of that flight before it took off and, of course, also confirmed that the flight was forced to turn back in mid-air because of the events on the ground,” said head of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Regional Office for Southern and Eastern Africa Gemma Connell, according to the press briefing.
“While we’re still ascertaining all of the facts in relation to this event, we’re, obviously, concerned about what has taken place today and what it means for humanitarian operations in northern Ethiopia moving forward,” Connell added.
The aborted landing of the flight, which was carrying 11 aid workers, was followed by a suspension of all UN flights into Mekelle, Reuters reported.
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UN official Martin Griffiths said that there were no warnings prior to the air strike, according to Reuters.
Griffiths also reportedly said that the UN received clearance for the flight prior to departure.
TPLF “air defense units knew the UN plane was scheduled to land (and) it was due in large measure to their restraint it was not caught in a crossfire,” tweeted TPLF spokesperson Getachew Reda.
Legesse Tulu, a spokesperson for the Ethiopian government, told Reuters that “there is no deliberate or intended act that put the efforts of UN humanitarian staff and their plan of delivering aid to the disadvantage (sic) group.”
The air strike is part of an increasingly brutal civil war between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in the northern Ethiopian region of Tigray. (RELATED: Not Wearing A Mask Now Means 2 Years In Prison In Ethiopia)
Connell noted that seven million people in northern Ethiopia, including five million in the Tigray region, “are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance,” according to the press briefing.