The United Nations said Wednesday that large amounts of food supplies have been looted from their warehouses in northern Ethiopia, leading to the suspension of food distributions in two towns.
"The World Food Program teams on the ground were not able to prevent the looting in the face of extreme intimidation, including staff being held at gunpoint," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters. "As a result, WFP has suspended food distributions in the towns of Dessie and Kombolcha."
Those towns are in the northern Ethiopian state of Amhara.
Dujarric said nutritional items for malnourished children were among the looted goods.
He said recent "mass looting" in Kombolcha was reportedly carried out "by elements of the Tigrayan forces and some members of the local population."
Forces aligned with the Tigray People's Liberation Front, or TPLF, pushed federal army troops out of the Tigray region in July, and then expanded their movements to the neighboring states of Amhara and Afar. Food insecurity has been escalating in these regions because of the 13-month-long conflict.
The U.N. says more than 9.4 million people in these areas are in dire need of food assistance. In Amhara, 3.7 million people need aid, while in Afar some 534,000 are struggling, and in Tigray, an estimated 5.2 million people urgently need assistance. Some 400,000 Tigrayans are already in famine-like conditions.
Military takes trucks
In a separate incidents, Dujarric said that on Tuesday and Wednesday, three WFP trucks used for humanitarian operations in Amhara were commandeered by military personnel and used for their own purposes. He condemned the incidents and harassment of aid workers as unacceptable.
"It is prohibited to attack, destroy, misappropriate or loot relief supplies, installations, materials, units or vehicles," he noted.
The United Nations has been a target of anger by both the federal government and now the Tigray forces. On September 30, the government declared several senior U.N. humanitarian officials persona non grata and expelled them, saying they were interfering in the country's internal affairs. The government has since arbitrarily detained several Ethiopian U.N. staff, and currently holds nine staff members and three dependents in detention.
Dozens of truck drivers who were to transport aid to Tigray were also detained for several days and then released.
The federal government's military has been fighting Tigray forces since November 2020. The conflict has displaced nearly 1.2 million people internally, while more than 70,000 have sought safety in neighboring Sudan.