A report showing satellite images allegedly of mass graves holding hundreds of bodies from a massacre in an ancient Ethiopian town that is home to the Ark of the Covenant has been released.
Eritrean soldiers fighting across the border in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region are believed to have killed hundreds of people in a massacre last year, that is likely a crime against humanity, Amnesty International said Friday.
The rights watchdog spoke to survivors of the atrocities and used satellite images to piece together the bloody events of last November in the ancient town of Axum.
The Amnesty report on what might be the deadliest massacre of Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict describes the soldiers gunning down civilians as they fled, lining up men and shooting them in the back, rounding up ‘hundreds, if not thousands’ of men for beatings and refusing to allow those grieving to bury the dead.
‘The evidence is compelling and points to a chilling conclusion. Ethiopian and Eritrean troops carried out multiple war crimes in their offensive to take control of Axum,’ said Deprose Muchena of Amnesty International.
‘Above and beyond that, Eritrean troops went on a rampage and systematically killed hundreds of civilians in cold blood, which appears to constitute crimes against humanity.
‘This atrocity ranks among the worst documented so far in this conflict.’
It was reported last week that up to 800 people are believed to have been killed in the fighting, news of which has only just emerged because the region has been cut off from outsiders.
Tigray has been the theatre of fighting since early November 2020, when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced military operations against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), accusing them of attacking federal army camps.
He declared victory after pro-government troops took the regional capital Mekele in late November, though the TPLF vowed to fight on, and clashes have persisted in the region.
Thousands have been killed and millions put on the brink of starvation.
Tigray has been without internet and difficult to access since the start of the conflict, making claims and counter-claims of violence hard to confirm.
The presence of Eritrean troops in Ethiopia is widely documented but has been denied by Addis Ababa and Asmara.
Eritrea fought a brutal border war with Ethiopia in 1998-2000, back when the TPLF dominated Ethiopia’s governing coalition.
Abiy won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 in large part for initiating a rapprochement with Eritrea, whose President Isaias Afwerki and the TPLF remain bitter enemies.
Amnesty said it had spoken to 41 survivors and witnesses of the violence who said that on November 19, 2020, Ethiopian and Eritrean military forces took control of Axum ‘in a large-scale offensive, killing and displacing civilians with indiscriminate shelling and shooting.’
‘In the nine days that followed, the Eritrean military engaged in widespread looting of civilian property and extrajudicial executions.’
Over a period of about 24 hours, ‘Eritrean soldiers deliberately shot civilians on the street and carried out systematic house-to-house searches, extrajudicially executing men and boys,’ the report says.
‘The massacre was carried out in retaliation for an earlier attack by a small number of local militiamen, joined by local residents armed with sticks and stones.’
Witnesses said the Eritrean forces were easily identifiable, via their vehicles, language and unique ritual facial scars, while they also openly declared themselves as such.
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SOURCE: Daily Mail, Chris Jewers