Many people have been killed in a “massacre” in Tigray, Human rights watchdog Amnesty International even as the killings were blamed on militia groups thought to be allied to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
The claims emerged on Thursday evening after the lobby’s investigation team said it had located bodies in Mai-Kadara area, western Tigray region, where Ethiopian forces reported victory against the TPLF on Thursday.
The massacre, AI said, may have occurred on November 9 this week committed by forces loyal to the TPLF “apparently after they suffered defeat from the federal forces.” Victims had wounds from sharp objects like knives or machetes, according to witnesses who spoke to AI.
“Amnesty International can today confirm that scores, and likely hundreds, of people were stabbed or hacked to death in Mai-Kadara (May Cadera) town in the South West Zone of Ethiopia’s Tigray Region on the night of 9 November,” the organisation said in a Thursday bulletin.
Using what it called geolocation technology, analysts from AI examined photos from the scene of bodies strewn about and others carried away on stretchers.
Deprose Muchena, the Amnesty International Director for East and Southern Africa, said his team confirmed the massacre occurred on November 9 and the victims may have been casual labourers in the town.
But he said Amnesty has been unable to pin the exact groups responsible for the killings, given the difficulty in communicating with people in the region. Last week, Addis Ababa cut internet and telephone services in Tigray, affecting communication.
“This is a horrific tragedy whose true extent only time will tell as communication in Tigray remains shut down,” Mr Muchena said.
“The government must restore all communication to Tigray as an act of accountability and transparency for its military operations in the region, as well as ensure unfettered access to humanitarian organisations and human rights monitors.”
The Ethiopian government has refuted continual “misinformation” about the Tigray situation although officials on Thursday appeared to share the AI suspicion that the TPLF was committing massacres.
In a statement to the international community on Wednesday, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said the Ethiopian National Defence Forces had found bodies in areas they liberated in western Tigray.
“The Tigray Special Forces surrounded and massacred their own brothers and sisters in several places in Tigray. This incident was painfully gruesome and inhumane,” Abiy said in a video message.
Last week, Abiy ordered the ENDF to launch attacks on Tigray Special Forces, after they “crossed the last red line” by attacking the federal defence command in Tigray.
With communication shut down in the region, it has been difficult to verify the claims from both sides. The TPLF leader Debrestion Gebremichael claimed on Wednesday there was an “ethnic cleansing” by the Ethiopian and Eritrean forces, claims denied by both Addis Ababa and Eritrea.
On Thursday, Redwan Hussein, the spokesperson of the State of Emergency committee set up to manage the operation in Tigray said the TPLF were manipulating communication channels.
“For lack of information that everybody has, it is also true for the government because we cannot call, we cannot travel there. The only access we have is through our aircrafts which are bombarding areas where we have [TPLF] depots of fuel and artillery,” Redwan said in a briefing.
“We don’t think it will be long if we keep pushing. They will reopen it for their own sake.”
Meanwhile, the Ethiopian government has appointed Dr Mulu Nega Kahsay as the Chief Executive of the Tigray Regional State, to work as temporary head of the regional government after the federal parliament lifted immunity on Debrestion to face criminal charges.