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Ethiopia: Eritrean troops killed civilians in Tigray

  • Published at 10:17 am May 22nd, 2021
Ethiopia tank
File photo: A damaged Eritrean military tank is seen near the town of Wikro, Ethiopia, March 14, 2021 Reuters

The killings in Axum in late November represent one of the deadliest incidents of the six-month-old war in Ethiopia's Tigray region

Ethiopia on Friday for the first time accused troops from neighbouring Eritrea of killing 110 civilians in a massacre in the war-hit Tigray region.

The attorney general's office sharply contradicted law enforcement officials who claimed earlier this month that the "great majority" of those killed in the city of Axum were fighters, not civilians.

The killings in Axum in late November represent one of the deadliest incidents of the six-month-old war in Ethiopia's Tigray region.

The Tigray conflict erupted in early November when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops to detain and disarm leaders of the regional ruling party, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF).

Abiy said the move came in response to TPLF attacks on federal army camps.

In earlier reports on what happened in Axum, both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty blamed Eritrean troops fighting in Tigray and said the dead were mostly civilians.

Amnesty said the Eritreans "went on a rampage and systematically killed hundreds of civilians in cold blood." 

In Friday's statement, the attorney general's office said the Eritreans engaged in reprisal killings after pro-TPLF forces attacked them.

"The investigation indicates that 110 civilians have been killed on these dates by Eritrean troops," the statement said, referring to November 27 and November 28. 

"The investigation shows that 70 civilians have been killed in the city while they were outdoors. On the other hand, 40 civilians seem to have been taken out of their homes and killed in home-to-home raids conducted by Eritrean troops," it said. 

Eritrea's information minister did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.

Eritrean troops, who teamed up with the Ethiopian military, have been implicated in multiple massacres and other atrocities during the Tigray conflict, allegations Asmara denies.

The US and EU have repeatedly called for the Eritreans to withdraw.

"The continued presence of Eritrean forces in Tigray further undermines Ethiopia's stability and national unity," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement last week.

"We again call upon the Government of Eritrea to remove its forces from Tigray."

Ethiopians investigated

Ethiopia has said it is committed to investigating human rights abuses committed during the conflict. 

Friday's statement said that while Ethiopian troops had tried to minimize civilian casualties, "several allegations concerning the killing of civilians, sexual violence, [and] the looting and destruction of property have since been reported." 

It said the government takes those allegations "seriously" and has begun prosecuting suspects. 

Military prosecutors have pressed charges against 28 soldiers "suspected of killing civilians in a situation where there was no military necessity," it said. 

"The trials of these suspects are underway, and the verdicts are also expected to be handed down shortly." 

An additional 25 soldiers have been charged with "committing acts of sexual violence and rape." 

Three soldiers have already been convicted and sentenced for rape, while one soldier has been convicted and sentenced for killing a civilian, the statement said, without providing details.

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