The Ethiopian government says its forces shot at United Nations staff members in the country’s embattled Tigray Region on Sunday after the staffers breached two checkpoints.
Senior government official Redwan Hussien told reporters in Addis Ababa on Tuesday that the incident happened as the U.N. team tried to reach the Shimelba camp for Eritrean refugees.
He said security forces opened fire when the U.N. staffers tried to pass through a third checkpoint.
“They were told in some areas they were not supposed to move,” Hussien said, “but they indulged themselves in a kind of adventurous expedition.”
Hussien also said the staffers were apprehended but have since been released.
A U.N. spokesman in Nairobi did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Fighting erupted in the disputed northern Tigray Region on November 4, when some 600,000 people were already dependent on food aid.
Thousands of people are believed to have been killed in the war, which has displaced more than 1 million people, including 45,000 refugees who fled to neighboring Sudan.
The U.N. has been among several organizations calling for access to Tigray after foreign workers were forced to evacuate.
The U.N. reached an agreement last Wednesday with Ethiopia to provide humanitarian aid in Tigray, saying at the time the deal would give aid workers access to government-controlled areas of the region. But access has remained limited.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed claimed victory last week over the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) after federal forces captured Tigray’s capital of Mekelle the previous weekend.
TPLF leaders, however, have established a presence in mountains surrounding the region as part of an apparent emerging guerrilla strategy.
Abiy’s government considers the TPLF-led Tigray regional government as illegitimate. The regional government held elections in September in defiance of a federal decision to postpone the polls.
The Tigray regional government dominated Ethiopia’s ruling coalition for more than 25 years before Abiy took power in 2018.