The UN on Friday called for an “independent investigation” into possible “war crimes” in the dissident Ethiopian region of Tigray, where the army has been carrying out an operation against local forces for ten days which, according to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, are “in agony”. Thursday evening, Amnesty International (AI) denounced a “massacre” which “probably” left hundreds of civilian victims in Mai-Kadra, in southwestern Tigray. “If it is confirmed that they were deliberately perpetrated by a party to the current fighting, these killings of civilians would of course amount to war crimes,” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Friday. ‘Male, Michelle Bachelet.
According to witnesses quoted by Amnesty, who consulted the identity cards of some victims, they are from the Amhara region, neighboring Tigray. Community tensions are recurrent between Amhara and Tigray communities. The organization says it is unable to identify those responsible, but cites testimony incriminating forces loyal to the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF), which runs the region.
The President of Tigray, Debretsion Gebremichael, on Friday denied any involvement of TPLF troops in the massacre. “It is not based on anything. It cannot be linked to us,” he told AFP, which reached him from Addis Ababa. On the other hand, he accused the Ethiopian air force of having killed civilians during strikes in Mekele, the regional capital, and Adigrat, a locality near the border with Eritrea. He also mentioned hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people in Tigray.
The communications blackout in the region and travel restrictions for journalists are preventing independent verification of claims by either side.
Read also Ethiopia: four questions to understand the war in Tigray
A desperate situation ?
In the federal government, Mr. Debretsion said that those who believe in an imminent victory of the federal army “daydream”: “We are proud people who can defend ourselves. (This land) is a graveyard for the invaders”. After promising Thursday a “victory in a relatively short time”, Mr. Abiy assured Friday, in a speech in the Tigray language published on the internet, that the “malicious force” of the TPLF was “surrounded on all sides” and ” in agony “. He issued an ultimatum to the TPLF troops, calling on them to “rise up” and “defect”: “Use this opportunity your country offers you in the next two or three days (…) save your life”. Mr. Abiy justified the military intervention by accusing the Tigrayan forces of having attacked two bases of the Ethiopian army in the region, which the TPLF denies. With this operation he intends to reestablish “legitimate institutions” in Tigray, whose leaders have been defying his authority for several months.
No record of the fighting is currently available, but according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 14,500 people have already fled to neighboring Sudan, where humanitarian personnel are overwhelmed. “People arrive with very few goods, which shows that they fled in an emergency. The children are exhausted and scared,” said the UNHCR, which warns that the fighting is approaching a camp in Tigray 6,500 Eritrean refugees. Several observers are worried that the conflict is degenerating into ethnic conflict, in a country mosaic of peoples.
Read also Ethiopia: the federal government faces the Tigray region
UN Special Advisers Pramila Patten (Genocide Prevention) and Karen Smith (Responsibility to Protect) warned of a “dangerous trajectory” in Ethiopia, after “reports of targeted attacks against civilians, on bases ethnic or religious “. EU Foreign Minister Josep Borrell and Emergency Aid Commissioner Janez Lenarcic on Thursday denounced “ethnically targeted measures, incitement to hatred and ongoing atrocity allegations in Ethiopia “, warning of a” vicious and deadly cycle “.
On Friday, the Ethiopian government said it had “credible evidence” that TPLF agents work in local and international organizations and presented a list of them to the UN World Food Program (WFP), while denying any “ethnic profiling”. On the same day, an African Union (AU) official confirmed that the organization, headquartered in Addis Ababa, had separated from its security director, who was from Tigray, after a report from the Ethiopian government. questioning his “honesty”. Human Rights Watch for its part indicated “to receive credible information on the dismissal of Tigrayans residing” outside Tigray.