Ethiopia holds UN staff over 'terror act'

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At least 16 United Nations local employees have been detained in Ethiopia's capital, with a government spokesman saying they were held for their "participation in terror" under the state of emergency as the country's yearlong war escalates.

All the detained staffers are Tigrayan, a humanitarian worker told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the UN was given no reason for the detentions, but Tigrayans have reported widespread detentions in Addis Ababa since the state of emergency was declared, saying people are being picked up on the basis of their ethnicity alone.

"They are being detained in facilities against their will," Dujarric told reporters.

He said another six staff members were held but then released, and a number of employees' dependents have also been detained.

The UN has asked Ethiopia's foreign ministry for their immediate release.

Government spokesman Legesse Tulu said the detentions occurred "because of their wrongdoing and their participation in a terror act", without giving details.

He said the situation has no connection "with their office and job".

Ethiopia's government has said it is detaining people suspected of supporting the rival Tigray forces who have been fighting the government for the past year.

The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission this week noted with concern the new wave of arrests "appeared to be based on ethnicity" and included older adults and mothers with children.

The AP has confirmed the people detained included priests, monks and other clergy in the Ethiopian Orthodox church.

Envoys from the African Union and the United States are trying to encourage an immediate ceasefire by Ethiopia's government and the Tigray forces who long dominated the national government before Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power in 2018.

The government earlier this year declared the Tigray fighters a terrorist group.

The AU envoy on Monday said he sees a small "window of opportunity" as the warring sides agree a political solution is required.

But Ethiopia's UN ambassador said reaching a solution would not be easy, since there is the government on one side and a "criminal group" on the other.

Thousands of people have been killed in the yearlong war, thousands have been detained and millions have been displaced.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of people in the Tigray region face famine conditions under a government blockade meant to deny food, medicine and other aid from potentially reaching rebel forces.

Ethiopia's government last month expelled seven UN staffers from the country, accusing them without evidence of falsely inflating the scale of the crisis.

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