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08.09.2021 Ethiopia

125 villagers massacred in Ethiopia's Amhara: doctors

By Robbie COREY-BOULET
Tigrayan rebels seized the regional capital Mekele in late June in a stunning turnaround in the conflict.  By Yasuyoshi Chiba (AFP/File)
LISTEN SEP 8, 2021
Tigrayan rebels seized the regional capital Mekele in late June in a stunning turnaround in the conflict. By Yasuyoshi Chiba (AFP/File)

A least 125 villagers were massacred in Ethiopia's Amhara region earlier this month, doctors and local officials told AFP Wednesday, but rebels from neighbouring Tigray rejected claims they were responsible.

It was the latest reported mass killing in the 10-month conflict in northern Ethiopia between government forces and Tigray rebels that has claimed the lives of thousands and triggered a major humanitarian crisis.

"There were 125 dead in Chenna village... I saw the mass grave myself," Mulugeta Melesa, head of the hospital in nearby Dabat town, told AFP.

He said residents were "still searching for dead bodies around the area and counting is still going on".

The toll could not be independently verified and AFP was not able to confirm whether those killed were civilians or combatants.

A spokesman for the rebel Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) denied its forces were to blame.

"We categorically reject claims of our forces' involvement in the killing of civilians," Getachew Reda said on Twitter, calling for an independent investigation into "all atrocities".

The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission -- a state-affiliated but independent body -- said it was "alarmed" by the reports and that law enforcement was investigating to confirm the number and identities of the victims.

Northern Ethiopia has been wracked by conflict since November when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into Tigray to topple the TPLF, a move he said was in response to attacks on army camps.

Though the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner vowed a swift victory, fighting has dragged on, with myriad reports of massacres and other rights abuses.

In a stunning turnaround in the conflict in June, the TPLF retook Tigray's capital Mekele and federal forces largely withdrew.

Since then the TPLF has launched offensives into neighbouring Amhara and Afar, displacing hundreds of thousands of people and triggering allegations of summary executions and indiscriminate shelling.

The TPLF has denied the charges, insisting it is merely trying to break what it describes as a humanitarian blockade on Tigray and prevent pro-government forces from regrouping.

Gunshot wounds

Chenna residents reported that the TPLF controlled the village in late August before fighting against pro-government troops broke out in early September, Sewunet Wubalem, administrator of Dabat district, told AFP.

The rebels then shot dead civilians over multiple days in early September before retreating, he said.

Map locating the village of Chenna in the Amhara region of Ethiopia..  By Aude GENET (AFP) Map locating the village of Chenna in the Amhara region of Ethiopia.. By Aude GENET (AFP)

Chenna is located roughly 25 kilometres (15 miles) northwest of Dabat.

Some of the wounded were taken to the university hospital in Gondar, a city to the southwest of Dabat.

"The dead bodies are not coming here but there are some wounded civilians here," said hospital vice president Ashenafi Tazebew.

"We have received close to 35, 36 civilians but I am not sure they are all from the Chenna massacre. Most of them have gun wounds.

"Some of them, their families are already dead and they are asking to go to the funerals" even though they need treatment, he added.

'Beyond reckoning'

The war has caused immense human suffering in Tigray and beyond, with UN officials warning that 400,000 people face famine-like conditions.

Tigrayan leaders said Monday that 150 people died of starvation in August and that one million "are at risk of fatal famine if they are prohibited from receiving life-saving aid within the next few days".

Those figures could not be independently verified.

The TPLF has accused Abiy's government of imposing an aid blockade, and the UN, the African Union and world powers like the United States have repeatedly called for expanded humanitarian access.

On Monday, Ethiopia's peace minister Muferiat Kamil reiterated the government's position that the rebels were to blame for obstructing aid.

"It's TPLF who is choking the checkpoints, the humanitarian corridor, it's not us," she said.

The World Food Programme on Tuesday hailed the arrival of more than 100 trucks carrying food and other aid into Tigray, the first such convoy to arrive in two weeks.

"Although we have not yet been able to independently verify hunger-related deaths, we have received unconfirmed reports of deaths in displacement sites and we are gravely concerned regarding the life-threatening situation faced by millions of people in Tigray and neighbouring regions," Saviano Abreu, a spokesman for the UN humanitarian coordination office, told AFP Wednesday.

"It is extremely worrying that some supplies have not been able to enter at all, including fuel, without which we are unable to continue our operations."

He called for unimpeded access and warned that "the consequences of inaction are beyond reckoning".

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