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Sat 06 March 2021:

Eritrean forces shot dead hundreds of children and civilians in a November massacre in neighbouring Ethiopia’s war-hit Tigray region, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Friday.

Friday’s report was the second major analysis on Eritrean abuses in the town of Axum, a UNESCO World Heritage site, in the past week.

An Amnesty International investigation into the same events detailed how Eritrean troops “went on a rampage and systematically killed hundreds of civilians in cold blood”.

The findings from the rights watchdogs come as global concern mounts over atrocities by Eritrean troops in Tigray.

UN leaders on Thursday accused the Eritreans of possible crimes against humanity and urged them to pull out.

Addis Ababa and Asmara deny Eritrea is actively involved in Tigray.


The findings from the rights watchdogs come as  global concern mount over atrocities by Eritrean troops in Tigray. 

Ethiopian and Eritrean forces entered Axum on November 20 after “indiscriminate” shelling that killed civilians, said the HRW report published Friday.  The Eritreans then engaged in “widespread pillaging” as Ethiopian troops mostly looked on, the report said.

The massacre began on November 28 after Tigrayan militia members, joined by some residents, attacked Eritrean soldiers, HRW said.

After calling in reinforcements, the Eritreans began “moving through the town, going house to house, searching for young men and boys, and executing them”.

Like Amnesty, HRW said it was impossible to provide an exact death toll but estimated that “over 200 civilians were most likely killed on November 28-29 alone.” 

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced military operations against the leadership of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), Tigray’s then-ruling party, in early November, saying they came in response to TPLF attacks on federal army camps.  

Since the publication of Amnesty’s report, Abiy’s government has said federal investigators are probing “credible allegations” of atrocities and abuses including in Axum. But the government has also tried to cast doubt on Amnesty’s findings and accused it of “reinforcing the misinformation and propaganda by TPLF and its cohorts.” 

To this end, HRW called Friday for an urgent UN investigation into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity in Tigray. 

“Eritrean troops committed heinous killings in Axum with wanton disregard for civilian lives,” HRW Horn of Africa director Laetitia Bader said. 

“Ethiopian and Eritrean officials can no longer hide behind a curtain of denial, but should allow space for justice and redress, not add to the layers of trauma that survivors already face.”

UN leaders on Thursday alleged possible crimes against humanity in Ethiopia’s Tigray region including by Eritrean troops, as they urged a pullout by the neighbouring country, which denies involvement. The United Nations also warned of potentially catastrophic hunger as it pleaded for urgent humanitarian access, although divisions at the Security Council stopped the international community from showing a common front.

The UN rights chief’s, Michelle Bachelet, office said it had corroborated information about incidents including indiscriminate shelling in the regional capital of Mekele and towns of Humera and Adigrat in November when Ethiopia launched an offensive.

It had also verified “reports of grave human rights violations and abuses including mass killings in Axum, and in Dengelat in central Tigray by Eritrean armed forces.”

The United Nations for the first time also publically pointed the blame at Eritrea, Ethiopia’s onetime rival that has found shared objectives in Tigray. Both the Addis Ababa and Asmara governments have denied the Eritrean presence.




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