20 Dec 2021

Ethiopia: Bodies litter roadside in ongoing civil war

Africa Correspondent

Bodies litter the roadside from Ethiopia’s capital to disputed regions in the north of the country as the civil war continues to devastate communities. 

Grieving relatives have given Channel 4 News accounts of alleged war crimes committed in the northern Amhara region of Ethiopia after they were attacked by rebel fighters from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

The TPLF, a paramilitary and political group who ruled Ethiopia for 27 years before it was ousted in 2018, has been fighting the Ethiopian government for more than a year.

Forces on all sides of the conflict, including those led by and working alongside the Ethiopian government, have been accused of war crimes and atrocities, according to a United Nations report.

Mohammed Seid fought in the mountains of Antsokia to defend his village, Ambo Weha, but TPLF rebels approached from another side and when he returned, his family had been slaughtered.

“My children are dead,” he said.

“My whole family; my father, my brother and my children, all of them are dead.

“I spent a whole night with four corpses in my house.”

A year of war

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for bringing a long-running conflict with neighbouring Eritrea to an end, launched a military offensive in Tigray accusing the TPLF of attacking a military base in Mekelle in November 2020.

The Tigray region’s president is Debrestion Gebremichael of the TPLF.

Channel 4 News was one of the first broadcasters to access Tigray earlier this year and heard harrowing accounts of how rape had allegedly been used as a weapon of war by soldiers and militia linked to the Ethiopian government.

Mr Ahmed has since been criticised for his central role and the actions of his forces in the current war.

In the past few months, TPLF rebels had reportedly made advances from their strongholds in the north and in November they were threatening to march on the capital Addis Ababa with Prime Minster Abiy declaring a state of emergency.

But it is understood government forces are now pushing them back.

‘They shot my boy’

TPLF fighters descended on the village of Ambo Weha at the beginning of December, killing more than 100 men who tried to defend their homes, it is understood.

Local villager Ahmed told Channel 4 News they had to bury the bodies in mass graves “to save time” as they had to continue defending themselves.

Sofia Tesema did not let her son go out to fight. He stayed to look after his young wife and their children, but when the rebels came they killed him anyway.

She said: “They shot my boy and when we tried to help him they said they would kill us.

“They pointed the gun at us and threatened to kill us if we cried.”

The fighters held Sofia and her family captive.

“They threatened us continuously,” she said. “When my boy was taking his last breath and we couldn’t control our tears, they abused us horribly.”

The people in Ambo Weha were massacred because they are ethnic Amharas, it is understood.

The TPLF have accused Amhara militias, allied to the government, of killing Tigrayan civilians.