"On Ethiopia, we have seen the reports of a UN convoy being shot at in Tigray province. These are alarming reports, and we are engaging at the highest level with the Federal Government to express our concerns and avoid any such incidents in the future", spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Tuesday.
He said the four U.N. staffers on Sunday had been trying to assess roads, a key step before larger aid convoys can go in, although he stressed that the full details of what had happened were not yet clear.
The senior government official, Redwan Hussein, told reporters that the U.N. employees “broke” two checkpoints and were trying to go through a third when they were fired upon. “They were told in some areas they were not supposed to move. But they indulged themselves in a kind of adventurous expedition,” he said.at a press conference in Addis Ababa.
He said the staffers have since been released.
The incident occurred against a backdrop of frustration among humanitarian agencies, as aid did not end up arriving freely in Tigray - a region bordering Eritrea and Sudan - six days after the UN announced an access agreement with the Ethiopian government.
In New York, Dujarric said that the details of the agreement were still being worked out locally and recalled that the situation on the ground was "complicated". "We are not having unrestricted humanitarian access at this time, of course not. And that's why we are still in discussions with the government to get where we want to be," said the spokesman, who stressed the importance of the population of Tigray being able to receive the aid they need.
The Tigray region has been shaken by more than a month of armed conflict, with hundreds of people killed and more than 45,000 fleeing the violence in neighbouring Sudan.
The UN estimates that more than a million people may need help as a result of the war in Tigray, a region of just over five million people, five percent of Ethiopia's population (some 110 million citizens).
On 28 November Ethiopia's prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, announced the capture of the Tigrayan capital, Mekele, and claimed victory in the conflict, but hostilities have continued. Abiy ordered an armed offensive on 4 November against the People's Liberation Front of Tigray (PFLT), the party in power in the region, in reprisal for an attack by forces of this formation on an Ethiopian military base in that territory.