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Drone strikes kill 19 in Ethiopia's Tigray: aid workers, doctor

By Robbie COREY-BOULET
Ethiopia Ethiopian government forces retook a string of towns in December, leading to a rebel retreat.  By Solan Kolli AFPFile
JAN 11, 2022 LISTEN
Ethiopian government forces retook a string of towns in December, leading to a rebel retreat. By Solan Kolli (AFP/File)

Nineteen people have been killed in drone strikes in Ethiopia's Tigray over the past two days, aid workers and hospital officials told AFP on Tuesday, the latest reported attacks in the war-stricken region.

In the deadliest strike on Monday in the southern Tigray town of Mai Tsebri, 17 people working at a flour mill lost their lives, said one of the humanitarian workers, citing witness accounts.

The aid worker said dozens of people were also injured and 16 donkeys killed.

"A witness told me that the drones came and hovered a bit before dropping bombs. Then people panicked but after some minutes everyone heard huge shouting and they went to the scene to see that women and donkeys died."

In another strike on Tuesday, two people were killed and dozens injured in Hiwane, south of Tigray's capital Mekele, according to an official and a doctor from the city's main hospital.

The attacks came after dozens of people were reported killed and many more injured in a drone strike Friday on a camp in northwestern Tigray for people displaced by Ethiopia's brutal 14-month-old conflict.

It was not possible to independently verify the reports because access to Tigray is restricted and it remains under a communications blackout.

An Ethiopian government spokeswoman said Tuesday she had no information on the alleged strikes.

'Ongoing hostilities'

Rebels from the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) say government forces are continuing to wage air strikes despite them retreating to their Tigray stronghold in December.

Their withdrawal followed a government offensive that led to the recapture of a string of strategic towns, and had raised hopes of a possible opening towards a ceasefire.

On Friday, the government announced an amnesty for several senior TPLF figures and other high-profile opposition leaders in what it said was a bid to pave the way for national dialogue and "unity".

Map of Ethiopia and the region of Tigray.  By Aude GENET AFP Map of Ethiopia and the region of Tigray. By Aude GENET (AFP)

The fighting between forces loyal to Abiy and the TPLF and their allies has killed thousands of people and forced several million from their homes since it erupted in November 2020.

Tigray itself is under what the UN calls a de facto blockade that is preventing life-saving food and medicine from reaching its six million people, including hundreds of thousands in famine-like conditions.

Monday's reported strike came on the same day that US President Joe Biden voiced concern about the continuing violence in a phone call with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

Biden expressed concern that "ongoing hostilities, including recent air strikes, continue to cause civilian casualties and suffering," according to a White House statement.

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, himself a Tigrayan, said on Twitter he was "deeply concerned about reports of another drone strike in #Tigray, resulting in injuries and death of too many civilians".

"I echo (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres' call for an end to the conflict in Ethiopia and for humanitarian aid to be urgently allowed in."

The aid workers who spoke to AFP Tuesday also said the attack on the displaced persons camp in Dedebit in northwestern Tigray had killed 59 people, with one reporting 138 wounded.

In the wake of that strike, aid agencies suspended their operations in the area, according to the UN's emergency response agency OCHA.

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