'Scores killed’ in anti-government protests in Tigray — Sources


Ethiopian Army soldiers stand on guard at Mai Aini refugee camp. Sources say anti-government protests in Ethiopia's northern Tigray region have claimed the lives of several people last week.

Photo credit: Eduardo Soteras | AFP

Anti-government protests in Ethiopia's northern Tigray region claimed the lives of several people last week, multiple sources from the region confirmed to the Nation.

According to credible sources, at least 28 people were killed since the protests began on February 8 in the regional capital of Mekelle and other towns.

"Five died in Mekelle, 17 in neighbouring Wukiro town. Federal forces are using live bullets to quell the protests," said one medical worker who declined to be named over security concerns.

"Dozens were injured and many more were arrested" he told the Nation adding, "young protesters who were throwing stones at security forces had been shot dead"

The latest development has made it life more difficult to the people.

"There is little or no human activity in the past few days. Shops and private facilities were closed.  There is no transportation in the city," said the medical worker, also a resident of Mekelle.

Elders and religious leaders

The civil disobedience comes shortly after a team of elders and religious leaders sent by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed-led central government arrived in Mekelle on Monday last week.

Their arrival has angered Mekelle residents and the Tigrinyans at large as the delegates entered the city.

Angry protesters immediately took to the streets of Mekelle, on Monday burning tires in the streets and many sitting in homes.

The delegates are said to have come to hold "peace talks" with various community members in the region.

Previously, Tigrinyans have been accusing federal delegations including many religious groups of expressing support for PM Abiy's military action against Tigray.

They also accuse them of ignoring the call of the people of the region.

"They have ignored a call by Tigray to condemn the ongoing brutal atrocities being committed against the Tigray people by the federal forces and Eritrean troops who still remain involved in the region," an ethnic Tigrinyan political activist told the Nation in condition of anonymity.

"Innocent civilians are being killed in a broad day light on daily basis, food aid is being restricted, people are dying of hunger, women and children as young as 14 are being raped,” the activist said, adding that the federal institutions continue to ignore the cries of the people of Tigray

A local human rights commission said 108 rapes have been reported in Tigray in the past two months alone.

The Ethiopian government has also admitted rape "has taken place conclusively and without doubt" in Tigray, Filsan Abdullahi Ahmed, Ethiopian Minister for Women, Children and Youth said, further calling for international help.

"We have received the report from our task force team on the ground in the Tigray region. They have unfortunately established rapes have taken place.

"We have set up mental, psycho and social support teams in the region to help treat physical and psychological scars as well as other social issues resulting from violence, intimidation and displacement" the minister added.

Public outrage

An individual who was invited to represent the local clergy at the rally said the peace talks had "provoked public outrage".

"These clerics want the people to come together. They are now trying to create an impression that there is peace in Tigray," he told the BBC.

He said that he was invited to attend the "peace talks" 20 minutes before the start of the public meeting but he had declined the invitation.

"Tigray is at war. People are dying every day. As a religious leader, I do not accept such an invitation. What is the meaning of peace talks without condemning the ongoing atrocities?" he wondered.

"When many priests here in Tigray were killed, churches and religious institutions were burned and destroyed, these federal institutions did not say a word," he said.

This is the first public disobedience since the federal government took the control of the region late in November 2020, defeating forces loyal to the former regional ruling TPLF party.

Death toll is feared to rise as protests spread to several areas of the region.

According to sources close to the Nation, public disobedience in the capital Mekelle and major towns of the Tigray region has continued and the newly appointed caretaker government is warning the public to open shops and other services.

Regional officials allege the protests ended Friday and that the capital has returned to normalcy.

However, sources told the Nation that demonstrations have continued in various cities in the Tigray region.

The protests spread from Mekelle to Wukiro, Farewini, Edagahamus, Adigrat, Adwa, Shere and Axum.

As demos spread to more parts of the region, other eye witnesses said seven were killed in a shooting in the town of Axum and four in Shire.

A resident of Axum town, Eyasu Tesfaye, told VOA's Amharic Service that seven people had been killed and four others wounded in a shootout between Eritrean security forces and the protestors protesters.

Asked about the Eritrean army's presence in the city, residents said the vehicles they used had Eritrean license plates and were easily identified by their Tigrigna Eritrean accent.

Others say they were wearing a different military uniforms, unlike Ethiopian ones