No fewer than 70 drivers working for the United Nations and international aid organizations were detained in northern Ethiopia, a UN spokesperson confirmed to dpa on Wednesday.
The drivers were apprehended on Nov. 3, in the city of Semera in the Afar Region, the official said, adding that the UN was working with the Ethiopian government to establish the grounds for the detentions.
On Tuesday, almost two dozen Ethiopian staff members from various UN agencies were detained without a stated reason in the capital Addis Ababa.
According to the UN, 16 are still being held in custody.
However, since November, there has been an increase in reports of people from the restive region of Tigray being detained or abducted.
Ethiopia is in the grips of a conflict between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and government forces that has cost thousands of lives and fueled outcry over suspected war crimes.
The conflict had led to tensions between the UN and the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for his role in forging a peace deal with neighboring Eritrea.
A few weeks ago, seven leading UN staff members were expelled from Ethiopia in an unprecedented move.
Secretary General, António Guterres said the unprecedented move violated international law.
Meanwhile, UN has been struggling to provide aid to millions of Ethiopians in need in recent months.
Ethiopia, a country of 115 million people belonging to various ethnic groups, is threatened with collapse as the conflict has weakened Ahmed’s government.
Fighting has spread to other parts of the country after starting in Tigray around one year ago.
Today, the TPLF is approaching the capital Addis Ababa, together with rebels from the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA).
After being praised for his peace efforts just a couple of years ago, Ahmed is now under heavy criticism internationally in the war against the TPLF.
He has been accused of war crimes and a de facto blockade of Tigray.
The conflict has plunged the north of the country into a severe humanitarian crisis.
Amnesty International warned in a report on Wednesday of atrocities committed against civilians by the TPLF.
The report recounted the experiences of 16 women who said they were raped by TPLF forces after the fighters captured the northern town Amhara, which borders the Tigray region, in August.
Fourteen of the 16 interviewed by Amnesty said they were gang raped.
“It is not easy to tell you what they did to me. They raped me. Three of them raped me while my children were crying.
“My elder son is 10 and the other is nine years; they were crying when the TPLF fighters raped me,” Gebeyanesh, a 30-year-old food seller, told Amnesty.
“The fighters did whatever they wanted and left … They slapped me, kicked me. They were cocking their guns as if they were going to shoot me.”
In some cases, the TPLF fighters told their victims they were being punished for rapes committed by federal forces against women in Tigray.