The United Nations says Ethiopian authorities have arrested and detained some 70 truck drivers contracted to the U.N. and other aid groups in the past week since the government declared a state of emergency amid the country’s escalating war

NAIROBI, Kenya — Ethiopian authorities have arrested and detained some 70 aid-delivering truck drivers contracted to the United Nations and other groups in the past week, the U.N. said Wednesday, beginning when the government declared a state of emergency amid the country’s escalating war and growing famine.

Wednesday’s statement said the U.N. is seeking the reasons for the drivers’ arrests that occurred starting Nov. 3 in the city of Semera, the gateway for aid convoys struggling to reach Tigray. Government spokesman Legesse Tulu did not respond to questions.

On Tuesday, the U.N. said the 16 local employees had been detained in recent days in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. All are ethnic Tigrayans, who witnesses say have been swept up by the thousands since the state of emergency was declared in response to reports that Tigray forces who have been fighting Ethiopian forces were approaching the capital.

Government spokesman Legesse told The Associated Press the 16 U.N. staffers were detained because of “participation in terror” unrelated to their work, without details. The government says it is detaining people suspected of supporting the Tigray forces.

The new U.N. statement said the drivers detained are of “different ethnicities,” but they include Tigrayans.

Some of the detentions of U.N. employees occurred even as U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths was in Ethiopia meeting Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and other officials to press for more access. The U.N. called those talks “constructive.”

“It is estimated that 80% of essential medication is no longer available” in the region, the U.N. humanitarian agency said last week. Ethiopia’s government is wary that aid intended for civilians may be diverted to support the Tigray forces, and it has accused humanitarian groups of arming the fighters and of falsely inflating the scale of the crisis, without giving evidence.

Griffiths in a statement this week said the women he met while visiting Tigray “were desperately focused on daily survival.”

The war in Africa’s second most populous country has killed thousands of people and displaced millions. Now the Tigray forces who dominated the national government for 27 years before a political falling-out with Abiy, the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner, are approaching Ethiopia’s capital.

Urgent diplomatic efforts by the African Union and United States for an immediate cease-fire and talks reported a small window of opportunity this week, but Tigray forces spokesman Getachew Reda in a tweet on Wednesday asserted that “most ‘peace initiatives’ are mainly about saving (Ethiopia’s prime minister) … Efforts that fail to address our conditions and the tendency to conflate humanitarian issues with political ones are doomed to fail!”

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