The United Nations warned Friday of possible war crimes in Ethiopia’s northern region of Tigray, as fighting continued for 10 straight days between the federal government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, winner of last year’s Nobel Peace Prize, claimed he had his enemy “in the final throes of death” after he ordered military operations in Tigray last week.
The international community meanwhile fears that the violence is the start of a long and bloody civil war.
Hundreds are reported to have been killed, some in a gruesome massacre reported by Amnesty International, and thousands have fled fighting and air strikes in Tigray, whose leaders Abiy accuses of seeking to destabilise the country.
UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet called for a full investigation into the report of mass killings in the town of Mai-Kadra, where Amnesty said it had “digitally verified gruesome photographs and videos of bodies strewn across the town or being carried away on stretchers.”
“If confirmed as having been deliberately carried out by a party to the current fighting, these killings of civilians would of course amount to war crimes,” she said in a statement.
Amnesty said it had not been able to confirm who was responsible for the killings, however witnesses blamed forces backing the region’s ruling party, the TPLF.
Witnesses also reported the identity cards of some victims indicated they were from the Amhara region, an area with a long history of tensions with Tigrayans, notably over land.
Tigrayan leader Debretsion Gebremichael told AFP on Friday the accusations were “baseless”.
Abiy says his military operation came in response to attacks on two federal military camps by the TPLF, which once dominated Ethiopian politics and claims it has been sidelined and targeted under Abiy.
The party denies carrying out the attacks.
Long-running tensions between Abiy and the TPLF hit a new low in September when Tigray pressed ahead with its own elections, insisting Abiy was an illegitimate leader after national polls were postponed due to the coronavirus.
On Friday Abiy addressed the region, especially its soldiers, urging them to “rise up” and side with the national army.
“This mischievous force is surrounded on all sides. It is a force in its final throes of death. Your children are suffering death and injuries on the frontline,” he said in the Tigrinya language in a speech broadcast on Facebook.
A communications blackout in Tigray has made it difficult to verify competing claims on the ground, but Abiy has vowed to deliver a decisive win “in a relatively short period of time”.
There are mounting worries about how Tigray’s population is faring after intensified fighting and several rounds of air strikes that Abiy’s government says targeted fuel and weapons depots.
Thousands have already crossed the border into neighbouring Sudan, while Gebremichael said hundreds of thousands had been displaced within Tigray.
Ethiopian state media reported that an arrest warrant had been issued for Gebremichael and other TPLF leaders. (Source: Bangkok Post)