Ethiopia claims TPLF fighters, not civilians, died in Tigray mass killing

Ethiopia releases contradictory reports of who was actually killed during a massacre in Tigray.

Video Transcript

MALCOLM WEBB: Hundreds of civilian men and teenage boys were massacred by Eritrean soldiers in the Ethiopian town of Aksum in November last year, according to rights groups. Amnesty International released videos, which it says were verified by dozens of testimonies, including this one, of one of the victims. Ethiopian and Eritrean forces were pursuing the Tigray People's Liberation Front, or TPLF, who'd previously controlled Ethiopia for most of three decades. Ethiopia's attorney general has said the people killed in Aksum were, in fact combatants.

FIKADU TSEGA: [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

INTERPRETER: It is established that the great majority of those killed in this incident were members of the fighting force of the TPLF, who engaged the Eritrean forces, though they were not in uniform. These forces later went back to the city and attacked civilians in the streets. According to our investigation, 93 individuals were killed due to fighting.

MALCOLM WEBB: The government's report contradicts not just Amnesty's report, but also the findings of Human Rights Watch and the government's own Human Rights Commission.

FISSEHA TEKLE: Found that to be in stark contrast to what we have found because from our findings, we have seen that most of them were civilians. And that Eritreans conducted house to house raids to pull out the male members of the families they found, and kill them in front of their family members.

MALCOLM WEBB: Aksum's isn't the only massacre. Here, relatives mourn protesters who were reportedly shot by Eritrean soldiers in the town of Wikro in February. Thousands of civilians have been killed in the conflict. Eritrea denies its soldiers have committed abuses. Ethiopia says it's open to independent investigations.

Elections are due next month and Ethiopia's prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, wants to stay in office. Some opposition and observers say there's no chance of a free and fair poll. Interethnic violence in some regions and the war in Tigray will mean many can't vote. Since the conflict began six months ago, media access has been heavily restricted, but reports of rapes and massacres keep coming.

This is one of several videos circulated on social media of what appears to be Ethiopian soldiers executing at least 11 unarmed men, and throwing their bodies over a cliff. Researchers and journalists verified it last month. The government dismissed their claims. Rights groups say the UN and the African Union have done too little, too late, to try and stop the atrocities. Malcolm Webb, Al Jazeera.