Three children were killed in an airstrike against suspected separatist rebels in southern Ethiopia and 28 others injured, the U.N. said Friday.
Members of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, or EPRDF, targeted by the airstrike Thursday, had reportedly opposed the country’s centralized government and imposed their own Islamic rule in the region that is also home to a large diaspora of Ethiopiaians who had migrated there from other parts of Africa.
In a statement, the U.N. said a local group affiliated with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), another rebel group that has long demanded a greater role for local tribes in decision-making, was blamed for the attack on a United Nations compound in the town of Sarsen.
The deaths and injuries, the U.N. said, were among hundreds of civilians being hosted in the facility by the U.N. and international aid groups.
“I condemn in the strongest terms the action taken in Sarsen,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad al-Hussein said in a statement. “I am outraged by the deliberate targeting of a U.N. compound and civilian residential areas by violent opponents of the government.”
According to the U.N., some 300 children, some as young as 9, attended a night class with U.N. instructors before their ordeal began. The U.N. said those killed in the attack were between the ages of 5 and 12, although the ages of those injured or killed were not given.
The Department of Defense said in a statement Friday that a Predator flying off the coast of Djibouti and engaging rebel forces in Somalia earlier in the day dropped an air-to-surface bomb that resulted in a munitions disassembly.
“The United States takes seriously its obligation to protect the lives of civilians and our own personnel and will review this occurrence,” the statement said.
Fears of violence in Tigray Province had already prompted the International Committee of the Red Cross to suspend relief deliveries to a remote part of the country where the rebels sought refuge.
“In light of growing security risks in the affected areas, the ICRC temporarily suspended delivery of humanitarian assistance to that region,” spokeswoman Mathilde Krimbel said in a statement.
The United Nations also sounded an alarm over the bombing, and security organizations expressed concern about the growing threat of extremism in Tigray Province, a region that for years has enjoyed peace and relative stability in the country’s south.
“We are deeply concerned that the situation in Tigray Province is deteriorating and vulnerable civilians are bearing the brunt of escalating clashes and serious insecurity and terrorist threats,” Terje Roed-Larsen, U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said in a statement.
“UNICEF has been providing humanitarian assistance to around 70,000 children over the past year for the most severe cases of malnutrition,” he said. “Access to care is severely restricted and the existing supply of rations is severely constrained by the violence.”
“The U.N. humanitarian community calls for immediate effective assistance to the population that are besieged and seeking help in Isolosho, Adama and Sarsen,” the statement said.