Inside Tigray: 'They shot my mama in the back'

At 14 years old Mibrak Esayas and her five younger siblings are now orphans.

She'll never foreget the day in November when soldiers burst into her home in Ethiopia's Tigray.

Her father, a priest, begged them not to shoot.

"Daddy said I am a civilian. They shot him in the chest with three bullets and he fell down on his head. We saw Daddy lying there. Then they shot my mama in her back."

Mibrak describes how she was shot in the thigh as her brother and sisters screamed in terror.

The soldiers, she says, were Eritrean.

On Tuesday (March 23) Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed acknowledged for the first time that Eritrean soldiers had crossed into Tigray during an Ethiopian military campaign against the region's former ruling party, the TPLF.

He's since said the Eritrean military has agreed to withdraw but he's facing mounting international pressure to address reports of human rights abuses.

Mibrak is among more than two dozen civilians in Tigray who told Reuters they have been victims or witnesses to shootings, gang rapes and looting by Eritrean soldiers.

Mibrak hid her siblings under the bed during the incident in the town of Zalambessa, near Eritrea's border.

They stayed there for two days without food, water or electricity.

It felt safer, she says, and they didn't have to see her parents' bodies.

Ethiopia and Eritrea have called reports of atrocities by Eritrean soldiers overblown.

Abiy says he has raised the issue with Eritrea and he's also said an Ethiopian soldiers found to have committed rape or looting would be held accountable.

Eritrea's information minister said by text message that it was "not in our military tradition to kill civilians".

Reuters verified parts of Mibrak's account through her medical records, with parishioners from her father's church and with her aunt and uncle who are now caring for the children.

In a two-bedroom apartment, the aunt holds up a photo of Mibrak's parents.

"Don't show the children," she says. "Mibrak holds it and cries at night."

Video Transcript

- At 14 years old, Mibrak Esayas and her five younger siblings are now orphans. She'll never forget the day in November when soldiers burst into her home in Ethiopia's Tigray region. Her father, a priest, begged them not to shoot.

MIBRAK ESAYAS: [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

INTERPRETER: Daddy said, I'm a civilian. They shot him in the chest with three bullets, and he fell down on his head. We saw daddy lying there. Then they shot my mama in her back.

- Mibrak describes how she was shot in the thigh as her brother and sister screamed in terror. The soldiers, she says, were Eritrean. On Tuesday, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed acknowledged for the first time that Eritrean soldiers had crossed into Tigray during an Ethiopian military campaign against the region's former ruling party, the TPLF.

He since said, the Eritrean military has agreed to withdraw, but he's facing mounting international pressure to address reports of human rights abuses. Mibrak is among more than two dozen civilians in Tigray who told Reuters they were victims or witnesses to shootings, gang rapes, and looting by Eritrean soldiers.

MIBRAK ESAYAS: [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

- Mibrak hid her siblings under the bed during the incident in the town of Zalambessa, near Eritrea's border. They stayed there for two days without food, water, or electricity. It felt safer, she says. And they didn't have to see her parents' bodies. Ethiopia and Eritrea have called reports of atrocities by Eritrean soldiers, overblown.

ABIY AHMED: [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

- Abiy says he's raised the issue with Eritrea. And he's also said Ethiopian soldiers found to have committed rape or looting would be held accountable. Eritrea's information minister said by text message that it was not in our military tradition to kill civilians. Reuters verified parts of Mibrak's account through her medical records with parishioners from her father's church and with her aunt and uncle who are now caring for the children.

In a two bedroom apartment, the aunt holds up a photo of Mibrak's parents. Don't show the children, she says. Mibrak holds it and cries at night.