After year of war, Abiy says will bury his foes 'with our blood'

Tigrayan women Tarik, 60, center, and Meresaeta, left, who fled from the town of Samre, roast coffee beans over a wood stove in a classroom where they now live in Mekele, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia. [AP]

Conflict has killed thousands of people and forced more than two million more from their homes. The war has also left 400,000 people in Tigray facing famine.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed yesterday pledged to bury his government’s enemies “with our blood” as he marked the start of the war in the Tigray region one year ago. Mr Abiy was speaking a day after a state of emergency was declared in the country as Tigrayan forces indicated they would advance on the capital.

“The pit which is dug will be very deep, it will be where the enemy is buried, not where Ethiopia disintegrates,” he said in a speech at an event at the military’s headquarters in Addis Ababa.

“We will bury this enemy with our blood and bones and make the glory of Ethiopia high again,” he said.

A moment of silence was observed at the candlelit ceremony to commemorate those killed on Nov, 3, 2020, when forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) — including some soldiers — seized military bases in Tigray. In response, Abiy sent more troops to the northern region.

The conflict has killed thousands of people, forced more than two million more from their homes, and left 400,000 people in Tigray facing famine. All sides fighting in the Tigray war committed violations that may amount to war crimes, according to a long-awaited joint investigation by the United Nations and Ethiopia and published yesterday.

The report by the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the state-appointed Ethiopian Human Rights Commission was released after Tigrayan forces said on Monday they would march to the capital Addis Ababa to topple the government of Africa’s second most populous nation.

The report covers most of the year-long conflict, fought by Tigrayan forces against the Ethiopian military and its key allies: forces from Ethiopia’s Amhara region and soldiers from the neighbouring nation of Eritrea.

All sides are accused of torturing and killing civilians, carrying out gang-rapes and making arrests on the basis of ethnicity.

It was not immediately clear whether findings from the report could form the basis for legal action. Ethiopia and Eritrea are not members of the International Criminal Court, so the court has no jurisdiction.

The report recommended a possible international justice mechanism, saying Ethiopian investigations were insufficiently broad, did not always comply with international standards, and were not always transparent.

The report draws on 269 interviews. Many accounts contain graphic details of rapes and mutilations by Eritrean soldiers on military bases.

Eritrea refused to engage with investigators, the report said, but has denied its forces carrying out rapes in the past despite extensive documentation, including by Reuters. Ethiopia has said some individual soldiers are on trial for rape and killing. Amhara has denied abuses.

Getachew Reda, a spokesman for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), has previously denied that Tigrayan forces committed abuses but said some “vigilante” Tigrayan groups may have committed violations.

The 100-page report said that Eritrean soldiers had killed around 100 civilians in the city of Axum; that Ethiopian soldiers had dragged about 70 men from their homes and killed them in three villages in southern Tigray; and that Tigrayan forces had killed around 200 Amhara civilians in the town of Mai Kadra, a crime then followed by revenge killings of Tigrayans by Amhara.

The report said it was not an exhaustive list of incidents. Reuters and other news organisations, rights groups, and civil society groups have documented many more killings of civilians that were not mentioned.

The report also accused Eritrean soldiers of forcing Eritrean refugees living in Tigray to return, in violation of international law.

The report accused all sides of blocking aid at different times and said it could not verify whether starvation was used as a weapon of war as had been previously alleged by the United Nations aid chief. The UN has said the government operated a “de facto blockade” of food aid, a charge the government denied.

The report mentioned investigators were often hindered in their work, particularly areas controlled by Amhara forces, or unable to visit certain areas due to insecurity.

It did not mention that Ethiopia deported a UN investigator working on the report in September.

The TPLF, which controls most of Tigray, said the report was incomplete because investigators did not visit many areas and did not involve Tigrayan leadership.

“They have kept us in the dark,” Getachew said on Tuesday ahead of the full report’s publication.

The report said the Tigrayan leadership was reluctant to engage because of the presence of investigators from the state-appointed Ethiopian Human Rights Commission.

Among other violations, the report documented allegations that Tigrayan forces had fired on civilians sheltering in a church in the town of Adi Hageray on November 3.

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