Displaced Tigrayans accuse soldiers of torture, 'murder': Document

AFP , Thursday 27 May 2021

An estimated 40,000 displaced Tigrayans are in Sheraro, most of whom came from farther west, where US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said 'ethnic cleansing' is unfolding

In this file photo taken on December 11, 2020 Youngsters walk next to an abandoned tank belonging to Tigrayan forces south of the town of Mehoni, Ethiopia AFP

Displaced civilians in Ethiopia's war-hit Tigray region have accused soldiers of "abduction, torture and, in some cases, murder," according to an assessment by UN agencies and aid groups obtained by AFP.

The assessment, finalised this week, focused on displacement sites in the town of Sheraro in northwestern Tigray, near the border with Eritrea.

It comes amid mounting concern over the fate of hundreds of displaced civilians abducted by Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers earlier this week from displacement sites in the town of Shire, also in northwestern Tigray.

An estimated 40,000 displaced Tigrayans are in Sheraro, most of whom came from farther west, where US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said "ethnic cleansing" is unfolding.

"A consistent, main security concern in individual and group interviews related to the presence of armed forces operating in Tigray," the assessment reads.

Interviewees presented "allegations of ongoing rape by armed forces of girls and women within and outside of (displacement) sites," as well as claims of "ongoing abduction, torture and, in some cases, murder of (displaced) male youth by armed forces," it says.

The assessment was prepared by the Ethiopia Protection Cluster, which includes UN agencies, government bodies, and local and international NGOs.

It does not specify which armed forces were accused of these abuses, but Sheraro is largely under Eritrean control, according to aid groups operating in Tigray.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into Tigray in November to detain and disarm leaders of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), the region's former ruling party.

He said the move came in response to TPLF attacks on federal army camps.

Though he vowed the conflict would be brief, more than six months later fighting continues, reports of atrocities are proliferating, and world leaders are warning of a potential humanitarian catastrophe.

Eritrea, a bitter enemy of the TPLF, also sent troops into Tigray to back up the Ethiopian military, and they have been implicated in massacres and mass rapes -- allegations Asmara denies.

On Monday night Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers detained at least 200, and possibly many more, civilians from displacement camps in Shire, beating them and snatching their phones before forcing them onto trucks, according to accounts from Amnesty International and witnesses.

Their whereabouts remained largely unknown Thursday, though a local official told AFP this week they were being screened to determine if they were pro-TPLF combatants.

The operation came one day after Blinken announced visa and aid restrictions targeting Ethiopian and Eritrean officials.

Multiple witnesses in Shire said soldiers cried out "Let's see if the US will save you" as they took displaced civilians into custody.

*This story was edited by Ahram Online. 

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