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U.S. pushes U.N. Security Council to publicly address Ethiopia’s Tigray

FILE PHOTO: Bags of food donations are seen at the Tsehaye primary school in Shire

(Reuters) -U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield on Thursday pushed for the U.N. Security Council to meet publicly on Ethiopia’s conflict-torn Tigray region, where hundreds of thousands of people are suffering from famine.

“What are we afraid of? What are we trying to hide? The Security Council’s failure is unacceptable. We have addressed other emergent crises with public meetings. But not with this one,” Thomas-Greenfield told a U.S. and European Union virtual event on Tigray.

Western council members have been pitted against Russia and China, countries that diplomats say question whether the 15-member body, charged with maintaining international peace and security, should be involved in the crisis in Tigray.

“I ask those who refuse to address this issue publicly: Do African lives not matter?” she said, repeating publicly a question she had asked her council colleagues privately in April.

About 350,000 people in Tigray region are suffering “catastrophic” food shortages, according to an analysis by U.N. agencies and aid groups released on Thursday. U.N. aid chief Mark Lowcock said: “There is famine now in Tigray.”

The Ethiopian government disputed the analysis, saying food shortages are not severe and aid is being delivered.

Ethiopian Foreign Ministry spokesman Dina Mufti told a news conference the government was providing food aid and help to farmers in Tigray.

“They (diplomats) are comparing it with the 1984, 1985 famine in Ethiopia,” he said. “That is not going to happen.”

The Security Council has been briefed at least five times privately since fighting began in November between Ethiopia’s federal government troops and Tigray’s former ruling party. In April it issued a public statement of concern about the humanitarian situation.

The Security Council is expected to meet on Tuesday on Tigray, at the request of Ireland, but diplomats said it was likely to again be a closed meeting.

The violence in Tigray has killed thousands of civilians and forced more than 2 million from their homes in the mountainous region. Troops from neighboring Eritrea also entered the conflict to support the Ethiopian government.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols in New York and Daphne Psaledakis in Washington; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Howard Goller)

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