Airstrike in Ethiopia's Amhara kills at least 15 civilians, residents say

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(Reuters) - An airstrike in Ethiopia's Amhara region killed at least 15 civilians, including children and elderly people, when it hit a truck carrying them to a village this week, three residents said.

The strike took place on Monday around 24 km (15 miles) from where Ethiopian troops were fighting militiamen, according to the residents who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals.

Some of the victims were fleeing the clashes, while others were returning home from a baptism ceremony, they said.

Spokespeople for Ethiopia's government and military and for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's office did not respond to requests for comment.

Ethiopian troops have been battling fighters from the Fano militia since last July in a conflict that has left more than 200 people dead, according to United Nations reports last year.

The strike on Monday hit a large Isuzu truck carrying several dozen people in Amhara's North Shewa Zone, the three residents said. Their accounts could not be independently verified.

"We first heard an explosion and the area was covered with smoke and dust," a priest said. "We collected 15 bodies. It was more a matter of collecting their dismembered bodies. Hands, legs and heads were everywhere."

The priest said more than 20 people wounded in the strike were sent to hospital and that he thought the overall death toll was significantly higher.

Another resident, who said he lost 10 family members in the strike, said at least 30 people had been killed. He said villagers told him that just before the explosion, they had seen a small drone flying in the area.

A third resident said his son and daughter-in-law were among at least 20 people killed in the truck.

The Ethiopian military has used drones extensively during the fighting, according to the state-appointed Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

The commission has documented the deaths of at least 81 civilians that it said were killed in drone strikes or extrajudicial killings by government security forces. The militiamen are not known to have any air assets.

The federal government has generally not responded to requests for comment about alleged abuses by the military, although it has denied some specific allegations by residents and the EHRC.

The government has said the military's actions in Amhara are aimed at ensuring law and order and the rights of citizens.

In a video shared on social media purporting to show the scene of Monday's attack, several lifeless and bloodied bodies can be seen lying on the ground alongside a badly damaged white-and-green Isuzu truck.

Reuters could not independently verify the authenticity of the video.

The Amhara conflict broke out less than a year after the government reached a peace deal in November 2022 to end a two-year civil war in the neighbouring Tigray region that killed hundreds of thousands of people.

Fano militiamen fought alongside the military against Tigrayan forces in that conflict, but they have since accused the federal government of trying to undermine Amhara's security. The government denies this.

(Reporting by Nairobi Newsroom; Editing by Andrew Heavens)