Irish aid agency GOAL has condemned the shooting dead of a driver who was transporting one of its staff members in western Ethiopia. 

The charity says the incident happened on Wednesday in the Benishangul region when twelve unidentified gunmen stopped the vehicle and forced the driver and the GOAL member of staff out.

The two were held in nearby bushes as the gunmen took everything from the vehicle, before setting it on fire.

After being questioned by the attackers, the driver was shot and killed, while the GOAL staff member managed to escape.

In a statement GOAL said: "We send our deepest condolences to the family of the driver of the vehicle who was tragically killed in such violent circumstances. We utterly condemn this attack on humanitarian workers who are operating in a very challenging environment to help vulnerable communities in need."

The Minister of State with responsibility for Overseas Development Aid Colm Brophy expressed deep shock at the killing.

"The driver and a GOAL staff member were travelling in a vehicle that was clearly marked as belonging to a non–governmental organisation. I offer my deepest condolences to the family and colleagues of the victim," he said.

He said Ireland would continue to support GOAL in its work in Ethiopia, adding: "This brings to seven the number of humanitarian workers killed in Ethiopia over the past year. That is seven too many."

GOAL said such attacks could not be tolerated and said the vehicle was clearly marked as one delivering humanitarian aid, with a GOAL logo, a sticker flag and a "No Gun" sign.

"This killing highlights the dangers facing humanitarian workers in the region. Armed groups must respect the delivery of vital humanitarian assistance," it said in a statement.

GOAL, which has worked in Ethiopia since 1984, has now suspended all operations in the region, pending an investigation and a security review.

While much attention is currently focused on the humanitarian crisis in Tigray and northern Ethiopia, tensions have also flared recently in the west, around Benishangul.

They have centred particularly around the Metekel zone, which borders Sudan.

UNICEF says 20,000 children have been displaced by violence in the region since November last year.

Further north in Tigray, the medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said that its staff had also been attacked this week and said they had witnessed Ethiopian soldiers executing at least four men in the war-torn region.

The charity said in a statement that three staff members had been travelling in a clearly marked MSF vehicle on Tuesday, when the incident occurred.

"Along the journey they encountered what appeared to be the aftermath of an ambush of an Ethiopian military convoy by another armed group, in which soldiers were injured and killed. Military vehicles were still on fire," said Karline Keijer, head of emergency programs for the charity.

She said Ethiopian soldiers at the scene stopped the MSF car and two public transport minibuses driving behind it.

Prime Minister Ahmed launched a military campaign in Tigray last year

"The soldiers then forced the passengers to leave the minibuses. The men were separated from the women, who were allowed to walk away. Shortly afterward, the men were shot."

MSF said their team was allowed to leave but their vehicle was again stopped by soldiers not long after.

"They pulled the MSF driver out of the vehicle, beat him with the back of a gun and threatened to kill him."

MSF said the driver was eventually allowed to get back into the vehicle.

Under international pressure to address mounting reports of human rights abuses in the region, Ethiopia's Prime Minister said that Eritrea had agreed to withdraw its troops from territory along the Ethiopian border.

The Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed acknowledged for the first time earlier this week that Eritrean forces had crossed into the semi-autonomous Tigray region, during ongoing fighting- although this has not been acknowledged by Eritrea.

He said Ethiopia’s military would now take over guarding the border area.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said earlier this month that he wanted Eritrean forces in Tigray replaced by those which would respect human rights.

Prime Minister Ahmed launched a military campaign in Tigray last year, after blaming the region's ruling party, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), for attacks on army camps.

Abiy, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, declared victory when federal forces entered the regional capital Mekele in late November, however the fighting continues, with many atrocities being reported.

Residents of Tigray have told human rights groups and journalists of massacres, widespread sexual violence and indiscriminate killings of civilians by security forces.

Additional reporting AFP/ Reuters