UN WFP Says TPLF Stole 570,000 Liters of Gasoline for Food Aid Trucks From Tigray Warehouse
20:41 GMT 25.08.2022 (Updated: 06:57 GMT 14.02.2023)
© AP Photo / Ben CurtisA convoy of trucks from the World Food Program stops by the side of the road after receiving news that the road ahead has been closed by the Ethiopian military with the sounds of shelling heard earlier, near Agula, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia Saturday, May 8, 2021. Thousands of people have been killed in the fighting between Ethiopian and allied forces and Tigray ones, the result of a political struggle that turned deadly in November.
© AP Photo / Ben Curtis
During the 2020-2021 war against the Ethiopian government, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) was repeatedly accused of seizing trucks bringing aid to the famine-stricken region, using the trucks to move their troops, and the food aid to compel young men to join their ranks.
The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) on Wednesday accused the TPLF, the governing party in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray state, of stealing a vast amount of fuel intended for the agency’s food aid trucks.
“On Wednesday morning, a group of armed men entered WFP’s compound in Mekelle and forcibly seized 12 tankers filled with over half a million liters of fuel. This fuel had recently been purchased by WFP and arrived just days before it was stolen,” WFP Executive Director David Beasley said in a statement.
Hours ago, Tigrayan authorities stole 570,000 liters of fuel for @WFP operations in #Tigray! Millions will starve if we do not have fuel to deliver food. This is OUTRAGEOUS and DISGRACEFUL. We demand return of this fuel NOW.— David Beasley (@WFPChief) August 24, 2022
“Without it, it is impossible for WFP to distribute food, fertilizer, medicines and other emergency supplies across Tigray. It also prevents us from powering generators and vehicles, so that WFP and humanitarian partners can meet the needs of the vulnerable populations of Tigray, where an estimated 5.2 million people face severe hunger,” he added. “The loss of this fuel will push communities in Tigray, already struggling with the impacts of the conflict, further towards the brink of starvation.”
“This is OUTRAGEOUS and DISGRACEFUL. We demand return of this fuel NOW,” he added in a tweet.
Amid the tragedy of the situation is a deep irony: the TPLF has long claimed that badly-needed aid shipments to Tigray were being deliberately blocked by the governments of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, amounting to a “genocide” that Western governments needed to intervene and prevent.
In a statement rebutting Beasley's accusations, the TPLF did not deny the fuel seizure, but said it was collecting a debt owed to it by the WFP.
Response to the WFP's Baseless Allegations of "Stolen" Fuel.— Tigray External Affairs Office (@TigrayEAO) August 25, 2022
August 25, 2022. pic.twitter.com/Kiwtwe6Kjl
"The government of Tigray has not 'stolen' any fuel tankers," said the group, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the Ethiopian parliament. "It had loaned over six hundred thousand liters of fuel to the WFP, and it simply demanded that it be paid back in accordance with the agreement we had."
However, later in the statement, the TPLF admits there was no actual agreement with the WFP, and that the UN agency had paid for the fuel it received.
After the TPLF launched its uprising against Abiy’s government in November 2020 and attacked neighboring Eritrea, Tigray became isolated, with aid trucks from the WFP and other agencies refusing to attempt to traverse the war zone and bring food, fuel, and other necessities to the region. Of those trucks that did make it, more than 400 of them disappeared, leading to accusations that the TPLF had seized them and their cargo and used them for their own purposes.
© AFP 2023 / YASUYOSHI CHIBA(FILES) In this file photo taken on June 20, 2021 Local farmers walk next to a tank of alledged Eritrean army that is abandoned along the road in Dansa, southwest of Mekele in Tigray region, Ethiopia.
(FILES) In this file photo taken on June 20, 2021 Local farmers walk next to a tank of alledged Eritrean army that is abandoned along the road in Dansa, southwest of Mekele in Tigray region, Ethiopia.
© AFP 2023 / YASUYOSHI CHIBA
The WFP has also directly accused the TPLF of raiding its warehouses and intimidating its staff in the cities of Kombolcha and Dessie in eastern Amhara state in December 2021, during the group’s withdrawal ahead of an Ethiopian counteroffensive.
Aid shipments were expected to become more regular after a ceasefire was agreed to later that month, but when the TPLF launched a new offensive into Afar state to the east in January, WFP convoys traveling from Djibouti stayed away until the TPLF withdrew in March.
The WFP’s news comes amid renewed fighting along the Tigray-Amhara border on Tuesday, with both sides accusing the other of being responsible. The Ethiopian Air Force also reported it had shot down a cargo aircraft carrying weapons from Sudan to Tigray, although both Khartoum and the TPLF have denied the reports.
The TPLF once ruled all of Ethiopia, but its 27-year hold on power ended in 2018 when Abiy was selected by the TPLF’s allied parties to become the new prime minister. Abiy reduced the power of the group by reorganizing the different parties into a single Prosperity Party and ended a disastrous 20-year war with Eritrea. These moves angered both the TPLF and the United States, which had long used the TPLF as its policeman in the Horn of Africa, and the group began laying plans to overthrow Abiy.
A leaked video in November 2021 between TPLF leaders and Western diplomats revealed the West’s support for the TPLF. In the video, the diplomats celebrate the group’s advance on Addis Ababa and give Berhane advice on how to form a post-Abiy government. Subsequent statements by TPLF spokesperson Getachew Reda on Tigrayan television revealed that from the beginning, the US had encouraged the TPLF uprising in November 2020 as well as its decision to launch an all-out offensive toward Addis in the summer of 2021.