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Kidnappings, violence, looting continue in Ethiopia’s Tigray despite truce, witnesses say

A ransacked hospital room is seen through a broken window.
Medical equipment and files lie damaged and scattered about at a hospital used by Eritrean soldiers as a base in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia.
(Ben Curtis / Associated Press)
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Allies of Ethiopia’s military are looting property and carrying out mass detentions in Tigray despite a truce between the Ethiopian government and opposing local forces, according to eyewitnesses and aid workers.

The accounts raise fresh concern about alleged atrocities more than three weeks after the warring parties signed a cease-fire deal that diplomats and others hoped would end the suffering in the embattled region, which is home to more than 5 million people.

Tigray is still largely cut off from the rest of Ethiopia, although aid deliveries to the region resumed after the Nov. 2 truce signed in South Africa. There’s limited or no access to the region for human rights researchers, making it difficult for journalists and others to obtain information as Ethiopian forces continue to assert control.

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Troops from Eritrea, which shares a border with Tigray, and forces from the neighboring Ethiopian region of Amhara have been fighting on the side of Ethiopia’s military in the Tigray conflict. They have looted businesses, private properties, vehicles and health clinics in Shire, a northwestern town that was captured from Tigray forces last month, two aid workers there told the Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because of safety concerns.

Several young people have been kidnapped by Eritrean troops in Shire, the aid workers said. One said he saw “more than 300” youths being rounded up by Ethiopian troops in several waves of mass detentions after the capture of Shire, home to a large number of internally displaced people.

“There are different detention centers around the town,” said the aid worker, who also noted that Ethiopian troops were arresting people believed to be “associated” with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, or TPLF, the political party whose leaders led a war against the federal government.

At least 1,900 children under 5 have died from malnutrition in the embattled Tigray region in the last year, according to a study by health officials.

Civilians accused of aiding Tigray forces are being detained in the southern town of Alamata, according to a resident there, who said Amhara forces had arrested several of his friends. A former regional official said Amhara forces are also carrying out “mass” arrests in the town of Korem, around 12 miles north of Alamata, and in surrounding rural areas.

Both the Alamata resident and the former regional official, like some others who spoke to AP, requested anonymity because of safety concerns as well as fear of reprisals.

The continuing presence of Eritrean troops in Tigray remains a sore point in the ongoing peace process, and the U.S. has called for their withdrawal from the region.

The military spokesman and government communications minister in Ethiopia didn’t respond to a request for comment. Eritrea’s embassy in Ethiopia also didn’t respond.

Thousands of miles from the Tigray war a lawsuit between trustees and clergy over the language of services is tearing apart an Ethiopian church in Ohio.

Eritrea was not mentioned in the text of the cease-fire deal. The absence of Eritrea from cease-fire negotiations had raised questions about whether the country’s repressive government, which has long considered Tigray authorities a threat, would respect the agreement.

A subsequent implementation accord, signed by military commanders in Kenya, states that the Tigray forces will disband their heavy weapons “concurrently with the withdrawal of foreign and non-[federal] forces from the region.”

Yet aid officials, diplomats and others inside Tigray say Eritrean forces are still active in several areas of Tigray, hurting the peace process. Eritrean troops have been blamed for some of the conflict’s worst abuses, including gang rapes.

Tigrai Television, a regional broadcaster based in the Tigrayan capital of Mekele, reported Nov. 19 that Eritrean soldiers had killed 63 civilians, including 10 children, in an area called Egela in central Tigray. That report cited witnesses including one who said affected communities were being prevented from burying their dead.

More than 350,000 people face famine in Ethiopia, the United Nations says. It is not just that people are starving; it is that many are being starved.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken discussed the importance of implementing the peace deal, “including the withdrawal of all foreign forces and the concurrent disarmament of the Tigray forces” in a phone call Monday, according to State Department spokesman Ned Price.

Four youths were killed by Eritrean forces in the northwestern Tigray town of Axum on Nov. 17, a humanitarian worker told the AP. “The killings have not stopped despite the peace deal … and it is being carried out in Axum exclusively by Eritrean forces,” the humanitarian worker said.

A statement from Tigray’s communication bureau last week said Eritrea’s military “continues committing horrific atrocities in Tigray.” That statement alleged that Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki “is bringing more units into Tigray” despite the cease-fire deal.

The brutal fighting, which spilled into the Amhara and Afar regions as Tigray forces pressed toward the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa last year, flared anew in August in Tigray after months of lull.

Tigray is in the grip of a dire humanitarian crisis after two years of restrictions on aid. These restrictions prompted a United Nations panel to conclude that Ethiopia’s government probably used “starvation as a method of warfare” against its opponents in the region.

Ethiopian authorities have long denied targeting civilians in Tigray, saying their goal is to apprehend the region’s rebellious leaders.

Despite the cease-fire, basic services such as phone, electricity and banking are still switched off in most parts of Tigray. The U.S. estimates that hundreds of thousands of people could have been killed in the war, which has been marked by abuses on all sides.

The cease-fire deal requires Ethiopian authorities to facilitate “unhindered humanitarian access” to Tigray. The World Food Program said Friday that it had sent 96 trucks of food and fuel to Tigray since the agreement, although access to parts of central and eastern Tigray remains “constrained.”

Unhindered access to Tigray has not yet been granted, an aid worker said Friday. There are limits on the amount of cash humanitarian organizations can take into Tigray, while checkpoints and military commanders impede the movements of aid workers within the region, the aid worker said.


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