Three MSF aid workers killed in Ethiopia's Tigray

A Spaniard and two Ethiopian employees of medical charity MSF have been “brutally murdered” in Ethiopia’s war-torn northern Tigray region, the organisation said in a statement Friday.

The trio “were travelling yesterday afternoon when we lost contact with them. This morning, their vehicle was found empty and a few metres away, their lifeless bodies,” the statement added.

“No words can truly convey all our sadness, shock and outrage against this horrific attack. Nor can words soothe the loss and suffering of their families and loved ones, to whom we relay our deepest sympathy and condolences,” the international aid group said.

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders, said 35-year-old Maria Hernandez from Madrid was among those killed.

She started with MSF in 2015 in the Central African Republic and had since worked in Yemen, Mexico and Nigeria.

Also killed in the attack were Yohannes Halefom Reda, a 31-year-old coordination assistant who joined MSF in February 2021, and Tedros Gebremariam Gebremichael, also 31, who had been a driver for the charity since May.

“We condemn this attack on our colleagues in the strongest possible terms and will be relentless in understanding what happened,” said MSF, which was founded in Paris but is headquartered in Geneva and has several global affiliates.

“Maria, Yohannes and Tedros were in Tigray providing assistance to people, and it is unthinkable that they paid for this work with their lives,” the group added.

– ‘ Great sadness’ –

In a tweet, Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya expressed her “great sadness” and said she was in contact with the authorities in Ethiopia to “clarify” what happened and repatriate Hernandez’s remains.

The Ethiopian foreign ministry confirmed that three humanitarian workers had been killed in the Abi Adi area, 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the regional capital Mekele, adding that the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) operate in the region.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops to Tigray in November to oust the dissident regional leadership, promising a swift victory.

But nearly eight months later, fighting continues triggering a humanitarian crisis with the UN warning 350,000 people are on the brink of famine.

The violence has increased in recent days.

On Tuesday at least 64 people were killed and 180 injured in an air strike on a market in Tigray region. 

The army denied targeting civilians.

Details of the bloody attack on Togoga town, 30 kilometres (18 miles) northwest of the regional capital Mekele, were slow to emerge partly because soldiers initially blocked emergency workers from accessing the area.

World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Friday condemned the Ethiopian airstrike on the market in his native Tigray, saying attacks on civilians were “completely unacceptable”.

Tedros told a WHO news conference in Geneva that the strike had killed and wounded civilians.

“Ambulances were blocked for more than a day from attending the scene and evacuating the wounded for medical care,” he said.

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