NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Local officials in Ethiopia alleged Wednesday that Tigray forces have killed more than 120 civilians in recent days following battlefield losses, in what would be one of the deadliest massacres of the East African nation’s 10-month war. Tigray forces denied killing civilians.
Sewunet Wubalem, administrator for the Dabat district in Ethiopia’s northern Amhara region, told The Associated Press that 123 bodies had been recovered and more were expected to be found.
“The attack on Sept. 4 was the most severe one, especially in the village of Chenna Teklehaymanot,” the administrator said, adding the attack began on Aug. 27 after Ethiopian forces blocked an attempt by Tigray fighters to seize the city of Gondar.
Local residents blamed the Tigray forces for looting, shelling and killing civilians, Sewunet said. “Children, mothers and even religious elders were also targeted,” he said.
The death toll could be as high as 200, said Bekele Yitbarek, head of the North Gondar Health Bureau. “As far as I know, some (Tigray) fighters are still hiding in between farms and are continuing their killings.”
The government-created Ethiopian Human Rights Commission in a brief statement said it “has learned that civilians who were unable to flee when the town came under control of (Tigray) forces stayed behind on the assurance that that no harm will come to them if they supply them with food.” Citing residents and local authorities, it said the people were killed by retreating Tigray forces as Ethiopian and regional forces approached.
The Tigray forces in a statement on Wednesday called the allegations “fabricated” by the Amhara regional government.
A spokesman for the Tigray forces, Getachew Reda, told the AP last month that Tigray forces aren’t targeting civilians as they fight in Ethiopia’s Amhara and Afar regions.
But multiple witnesses even before the latest killings have alleged otherwise.
The conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region has spread into other areas in recent weeks, displacing hundreds of thousands of people. The Tigray forces say they are trying to pressure the government to lift the near-complete blockade on food aid and other essential supplies to their region as some 400,000 people there face a famine.
Ethiopia’s government has called on all able citizens to join the effort to stop the Tigray forces “once and for all,” urging students and others into basic military training.
The United Nations, the United States and others are pressing for an immediate cease-fire and a path to talks to end a war that has killed thousands of people in Africa’s second-most populous country.