NAIROBI (Somaliguardian) – Amnesty International has published a new report revealing atrocities committed in Ethiopia’s war-hit Tigray region by Eritrean forces since clashes broke out in the region on Nov last year.
Eritrean troops fighting in the region systematically killed hundreds of unarmed civilians in the town of Axum on 28-29 Nov 2020 during house-to-house raids in a massacre that may amount to a crime against humanity, the report said.
The rights group says it had spoken to 41 survivors and witnesses, including in-person interviews with recently arrived refugees in Sudan and phone interviews with people in Axum – as well as 20 others with knowledge of the events. Those interviewed consistently described extrajudicial executions, indiscriminate shelling and widespread looting after Ethiopian and Eritrean troops led an offensive to take the town from Tigray People’s Liberation Front.
Satellite imagery showed indiscriminate shelling and looting, as well as identified signs of new mass burials near two of the city’s churches.
“The evidence is compelling and points to a chilling conclusion. Ethiopian and Eritrean troops carried out multiple war crimes in their offensive to take control of Axum. Above and beyond that, Eritrean troops went on a rampage and systematically killed hundreds of civilians in cold blood, which appears to constitute crimes against humanity,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.
“This atrocity ranks among the worst documented so far in this conflict. Besides the soaring death toll, Axum’s residents were plunged into days of collective trauma amid violence, mourning and mass burials.”
Amnesty quoted witnesses as saying that Eritrean soldiers who had engaged in widespread looting activities in the town made no secret of their identity as they were driving vehicles with Eritrean license plates, wearing distinctive camouflage and footwear used by Eritrean army and spoke in Arabic or a dialect of Tigrinya not familiar in Ethiopia.
According to witnesses, a group of TPLF militiamen and local residents attacked base housing Eritrean forces in Mai Kaho Mountain on 28 Nov but due to lack of training, the militiamen dropped their weapons and fled, and Eritrean forces unleashed worst violence against locals.
A 22-year-old man who wanted to bring food to the militiamen told Amnesty International: “The Eritrean soldiers were trained but the young residents didn’t even know how to shoot… a lot of the [local] fighters started running away and dropped their weapons. The Eritrean soldiers came into the city and started killing randomly.”
Eritrean troops began randomly shooting at unarmed civilians in the town, many of them running away from the soldiers with some shot dead with vehicle-mounted machine-guns on the streets.
A 21-year-old male resident said: “I saw a lot of people dead on the street. Even my uncle’s family. Six of his family members were killed. So many people were killed.”
The following day, Axum’s streets and cobblestone plazas were strewn with bodies and cries of people, many of whom sustaining injuries and others weeping for loved ones killed, resonated throughout the historic city. Eritrean soldiers also shot at anyone who tried to move the bodies of those killed.
Several hundred residents were buried in the aftermath of the massacre on 30 Nov as residents moved bodies on carts and in batches of 5 to 10 at a time.
In the days following the burials, the Eritrean army rounded up hundreds of residents in different parts of Axum. Soldiers were beating some of the men and were threatening them with a new round of revenge killing if they resisted, Amnesty’s report noted.
“As a matter of urgency, there must be a UN-led investigation into the grave violations in Axum. Those suspected of responsibility for war crimes or crimes against humanity must be prosecuted in fair trials and victims and their families must receive full reparation,” said Deprose Muchena.“We repeat our call on the Ethiopian government to grant full and unimpeded access across Tigray for humanitarian, human rights, and media organizations.”
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