Ethiopia: 'Hundreds executed' in Tigray

Allegations of atrocities and human rights abuses have surfaced in Tigray despite a government-imposed communications blackout.

Video Transcript

JOHN SPARKS: The government of Ethiopia says the war is over-- its law and order operation in the region of Tigray a complete success. But the signs of warfare are all around as we drive South from the regional capital, Mekelle. Sky News is the first media organization to make this trip. The central government controls the cities and the highways. And we saw Ethiopian troops and soldiers from its ally, Eritrea, patrolling roadside towns.

But very little is known about this conflict in communities which lie off the main road. When we stopped on the outskirts of a place called Mayweini, local residents told us we were standing next to a shallow grave.

- [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH].

They told us about a massacre on the 23rd of February, when residents were murdered all over this village.

How many people were killed in this village?

- [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH].

JOHN SPARKS: And who killed them?

- [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH].

JOHN SPARKS: The soldiers struck in an act of revenge, they said, after a battle in a nearby village. And we were taken to a churchyard to see the graves-- two or three bodies per plot.

What have you seen?

- They killed one-three years. 13 years.

JOHN SPARKS: They killed a 13-year-old child?

- Yes. They killed-- I see in my head, with my eye. They told for the kid to come. He says, come. And the kid go to the soldier. And killed by gun. And again. Killed in this area.

JOHN SPARKS: You saw that?

- Yes. I see in my eye.

JOHN SPARKS: The village looked deserted. But in the following town, we were met by a cacophony of sound. It was market day in Gijet, the first day of trading since the conflict began. And we watched anxious-looking residents buy or sell a little food.

[SHOUTING]

But some here are angry. And a demonstration quickly grew around us. Ethiopia's prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, has removed the ruling party, the TPLF, from power in Tigray. But he hasn't won the people's hearts. You want us to go to Cheli?

- Cheli.

- [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH].

JOHN SPARKS: Go to Cheli, they said, and see what they have done to us. And as we left, they crossed their arms in a sign of defiance. The remnants of battle littered the road as we approached the village of Cheli.

Obviously something terrible has happened here. We've passed past dozens of burnt-out military vehicles. Must have been a fierce battle. And in this sprawling community, homes had been destroyed. And food supplies for humans and animals had been torched.

We met the Beyena family, now living under the open sky. And a story emerged about the past few weeks.

- [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH].

JOHN SPARKS: Government forces and TPLF fighters clashed here on February 15. One week later, on the 23rd, government soldiers returned, accusing villagers of supporting the enemy.

- [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH].

JOHN SPARKS: Relatives of the dead were waiting for us under the branches of an acacia tree.

[WAILING]

Those unable or unwilling to flee were slaughtered by government troops, they said. Haileselasie Kiros said his two brothers were shot.

- [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH].

[CRYING]

JOHN SPARKS: The sons of my mother, he cries. How many people do you think have died in this community?

- [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH].

JOHN SPARKS: Citing evidence of human rights violations, the UN has called for an investigation. And we found one more docket of evidence-- a shallow grave in Cheli, where 18 people were gunned down, say villagers. If the truth is not revealed, thousands more will lose their lives. John Sparks, Sky News in northern Ethiopia.