Ethiopia's Tigray crisis: 'Civilians massacred', says Amnesty International

·3 min read
Troops ride in trucks to face soldiers loyal to the Tigray People's Liberation Front
Troops loyal to the government ride in trucks to face Tigray People's Liberation Front forces

"Scores and probably hundreds" of civilians have been massacred in the growing conflict in Tigray in northern Ethiopia, Amnesty International says.

Witnesses blamed forces loyal to the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) for Monday's killings but Tigrayan officials have denied that pro-TPLF troops were involved.

Fighting between government forces and the TPLF broke out last week.

Getting information is hard, with phone lines and the internet down.

This would be the first large-scale killing of civilians in the conflict.

There has been long-standing tension between Ethiopia's government and the TPLF, which controls Tigray, the country's northernmost state, and it has boiled over into military clashes, including air strikes by federal forces.

As a result, thousands of civilians have crossed the border into Sudan, which says it will shelter them in a refugee camp.

What has Amnesty said?

In a statement it said it could confirm that "scores, and likely hundreds, of people were stabbed or hacked to death in Mai-Kadra (May Cadera) town in the South West Zone of Ethiopia's Tigray region on the night of 9 November".

It had seen and "digitally verified gruesome photographs and videos of bodies strewn across the town or being carried away on stretchers".

Amnesty said the victims appeared to be labourers not involved in the conflict.

Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International's director for East and Southern Africa, called it a "horrific tragedy" and urged the government to restore communications and allow monitors access.

Amnesty said witnesses had spoken of wounds "inflicted by sharp weapons such as knives and machetes". Some witnesses said the attacks were carried out by forces loyal to the TPLF after they had been defeated by federal troops in an area called Lugdi.

Map
Map

The UN has said that vital aid supplies to hundreds of thousands of people in northern Ethiopia are at risk because of the conflict there.

In a video statement on Thursday, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said his forces had "liberated" the western part of Tigray from TPLF control.

He also accused TPLF-aligned fighters of "cruelty", and said when the army took control of the town of Sheraro they "found bodies of executed defence force personnel whose hands and feet were tied".

What is the background?

The prime minister ordered government forces to engage forces loyal to the TPLF on 4 November after he said military camps had been attacked.

There have been a number of clashes and air strikes since. Mr Abiy said government forces had made major gains.

The TPLF was the most powerful member of Ethiopia's ruling coalition for many years but Mr Abiy curbed its influence after coming to power in 2018 and the TPLF refused to join a unified party.

Tigrayan leaders say they have been unfairly targeted by purges and allegations of corruption.

Mr Abiy accuses some TPLF leaders of being "fugitives from justice" and opposing his moves to reform the way Ethiopia is run.