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The UN humanitarian chief says the
situation in the Ethiopian region of Tigray is worse than previously thought.

Mark Lowcock was speaking to a closed
session of the UN Security Council on Tuesday – the BBC has seen a leaked copy
of his prepared remarks.

He left no room for ambiguity, saying there was now
famine in Tigray – again challenging more cautious assessments of the hunger
crisis in northern Ethiopia.

The Ethiopian
authorities insist there is no famine in the north of the country.

“Rape is being used
systematically to terrorise and brutalise women and girls. Eritrean soldiers
are using starvation as a weapon of war. Displaced people are being rounded up,
beaten and threatened,” he said

“Aid workers have been killed,
interrogated, beaten, blocked from taking aid to the starving and suffering and
told not to come back. The Tigray administration have reported deaths from

Mr Lowcock suggested the recent
assessment of food security in Tigray – which spoke of a “catastrophe”
– might be underestimating the gravity of the situation.

He described multiple reports of
“young men and teenagers… taken, usually at night, and in some cases

“It is now clear that Eritrean Defence Forces are responsible for
substantial violations of international humanitarian law.”

Despite some success in delivering
aid to the region, Mr Lowcock said, “Millions of people in urgent need of
help are simply not getting any.

“The response is still not yet coming
close to keeping pace with the mounting needs.”

This comes as Ethiopia prepares for national elections. But
not in Tigray – where there are unconfirmed reports of a new surge of fighting
as Ethiopian and Eritrean troops seek to crush forces loyal to the region’s
former government.