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Ethiopia's Tigrayans recount massacre by Eritrean troops

Casualties of Tigray-Ethiopia conflict.   -  
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David Zalubowski/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Ethiopia

For nearly three months residents of Dengolat, a village in northern Ethiopia's Tigray region, have been afraid to share their traumatic story with the world.

On November 30 last year, Eritrean soldiers massacred 164 civilians in the town of Dengolat in Ethiopia's Tigray region, one day after a major Orthodox Christian holiday.

The killing was one of the worst incidents of civilian suffering in the ongoing conflict in Tigray, where the Ethiopian government launched a military operation and unseated the long-ruling TPLF.

Mass graves now dot the village as surviving family members mourn their deceased loved ones.

Violence and grief

Beyenesh Tekleyohannes heard the first gunshots as she fled in the opposite direction to safety, and immediately feared the worst for her male loved ones down below: her husband, two adult sons and two nephews.

When she emerged from hiding three days later, Beyenesh discovered all five had perished in the massacre. The soldiers had tied their hands with belts and ropes and shot them in the head.

"I'd rather die than have lived to see this," Beyenesh told AFP, tears rolling down her face as she described how the annual festival of Saint Mary turned into a bloodbath.

Tamirat Kidanu, a male survivor of the attack said: "This kind of crime is to exterminate us, to humiliate us – to make us fall down below them."

Local priest, Kahsu Gebrehiwot, breaks down the fear to speak out even as some reporters manage to navigate the government's medical access restrictions to locals.

He said: "Most of the (church officials), we are listening to them in the media -- the churches in Tigray and the people in Tigray are not their people. When people are dying and they are saying nothing, that’s a sign they fear for their lives."

As the war drags on and reports of atrocities mount, soldiers from neighbouring Eritrea — widely reported to be backing up Ethiopian troops, are often fingered as culprits.

Addis Ababa and Asmara deny Eritrea's military is present in Tigray at all.

Last week, Amnesty International published a report detailing how Eritrean troops "systematically killed hundreds of unarmed civilians" in the Tigrayan city of Axum in November 2020.

Tigrayans in both places have said there was no mistaking the nationality of the perpetrators: In addition to their accents, they cited facial scars specific to Eritrea's Ben Amir ethnic group.

Two decades ago, when the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) dominated the central government, Eritrea and Ethiopia fought a brutal border war that killed tens of thousands.

Many Tigrayans including Tamrat see Eritrean soldiers' present-day conduct as a form of revenge.

Background

In early November, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government announced military operations in Tigray in response to attacks by Tigray's longtime ruling party on federal army camps.

The full scale is yet to be known and Amnesty International is asking for a United Nations-led investigation into the atrocities in order to impose accountability for alleged crimes in the region.

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