"Verified" photos from Mai-Kadra, a town in Ethiopia's war-torn Tigray region, indicate 'scores of civilians' were killed, says Amnesty. It's the first reported incident of large-scale civilian deaths in the conflict.
Amnesty International on Thursday confirmed reports of a "massacre" of civilians in northern Ethiopia's Tigray region.
"Scores, and likely hundreds, of people were stabbed or hacked to death in Mai-Kadra town in the South West Zone of Ethiopia's Tigray Region on the night of November 9," the rights group said in a report.
Citing witnesses interviewed and "verified" photo, video and satellite imagery, the human rights group said bodies had been "strewn" across the town. Fighting between the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) party and the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has been ongoing for a week now.
Declining to identify who was responsible, Amnesty did however cite witnesses who alleged that Tigray special police members had used weapons such as knives and machetes, after a local defeat by Ethiopian EDF federal forces.
"There were no signs of gunshot wounds," said Amnesty in its statement, citing witnesses as saying bodies were found on central streets and at "rental dormitories frequented by seasonal workers."
Tigray's leader Debretsion Gebremichael, who chairs the TPLF, denied his forces had been involved in Mai-Kadra killings
Amnesty's regional East Africa director Deporose Muchena called on Addis Ababa to "immediately investigate this blatant attack on civilians."
All parties to the conflict must ensure 'paramount' protection of civilians, he said, adding that Ethiopian communications across Tigray remained "shut down."
Abiy claims western zone 'liberated'
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in a Facebook message Thursday claimed that federal forces had "liberated" the western part of Tigray, a mountainous region comprising six zones and a population of 5 million.
Tigray's Debretsion Gebremichael called on the population to defend itself. Tigray TV claimed jets had bombed the Tekese hydroelectric dam, a structure completed in 2009 with Chinese involvement and set in a deep gorge.
Abiy ordered military operations on November 4, accusing the TPLF of attacking federal camps, a claim denied by the party.
'Unimpeded' access, demanded by UN aid officials
United Nations officials on Thursday said Ethiopia, whose capital hosts African Union headquarters, was being urged to enable "immediate and unimpeded humanitarian access to conflict-hit Tigray.
Inside Tigray, more than 2 million residents are dependent on humanitarian aid, estimates the UN. Some 11,000 Ethiopians have already sought refuge in neighboring Sudan.
Up to 100,000 were expected in Sudan, said the UN refugee agency.
Across Ethiopia as a whole, some 15 million people are dependent on humanitarian aid, amid a total population of 112 million.
Conflict spread 'very real'
The EU's crisis management commissioner Janez Lenarcic told the German RND news network Friday that the risk of Ethiopia's conflict spreading was very real.
"I fear that this crisis will have catastrophic humanitarian impacts for the whole country," said Lenarcic, and referring to the Horn of Africa added: "The military escalation in Ethiopia threatens the stability of the whole country and the region.
Despite an African Union call for an immediate stop to fighting, Ethiopia's government asserted Thursday that TPLF "cruelty" could not be "re-dressed" at the negotiating table.
(Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa, KNA)