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  16 Sep 2021, 10:17

Attacks on Eritrean refugees in Tigray are 'war crimes': HRW

ADDIS ABABA, Sept 16, 2021 (BSS/AFP) - Eritrean refugees caught up in the
months-long war in Ethiopia have suffered abuses including executions and
rape that amount to "clear war crimes", Human Rights Watch (HRW) said
Thursday.

  A new report from the US-based rights watchdog details the role of both
Eritrean soldiers and rebel fighters from Ethiopia's northern Tigray region
in extensive carnage marked by forced repatriations and large-scale
destruction at two refugee camps.

  "The horrific killings, rapes and looting against Eritrean refugees in
Tigray are clear war crimes," said Laetitia Bader, HRW's Horn of Africa
director.

  "For years, Tigray was a haven for Eritrean refugees fleeing abuse, but
many now feel they are no longer safe," she added.

  Northern Ethiopia erupted in conflict last November when Prime Minister
Abiy Ahmed sent troops into Tigray to topple the regional ruling party, the
Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), a move he said came in response to
attacks on federal army camps.

  Before fighting broke out Tigray was home to 92,000 Eritrean refugees,
including 19,200 in the Hitsats and Shimelba camps, according to Ethiopia's
Agency for Refugees and Returnees Affairs (ARRA).

  Although Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a brutal border war in 1998-2000 that
left tens of thousands dead, Abiy initiated a rapprochement with Eritrean
President Isaias Afwerki that earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019, and
Asmara has lent him military backing in Tigray.

  Eritrean and Tigrayan forces first clashed near Hitsats about two weeks
after the conflict began.

  HRW said Thursday it had received "credible reports" that Eritrean troops
killed 31 people in Hitsats town, and that the true toll was "likely
significantly higher".

  AFP has previously documented how, once fighting reached Hitsats camp, pro-
TPLF militia targeted refugees in reprisal killings, shooting dead nine young
Eritrean men outside a church.

  When the Eritreans gained control of the camp, they are believed to have
transported 17 injured refugees to Eritrea for treatment, the HRW report
said.

  However most of those evacuees remain unaccounted for, along with 20-30
others who were detained, "including refugee committee members and perceived
opposition members, two of them women," it said.

  The Tigrayan forces regained control of the area in early December and
began robbing, detaining, raping and attacking refugees with weapons
including a grenade, potentially killing dozens, HRW said.

  Eritrean forces returned the following month and forced those still in the
camps to evacuate, and satellite imagery indicates Hitsats was largely
destroyed soon after, the watchdog added.

  - Missing refugees -

  Thousands of refugees formerly in Hitsats and Shimelba remain unaccounted
for, while hundreds had little choice but to return to Eritrea in what HRW
described as "coerced repatriations".

  Others ended up in two camps in southern Tigray, Mai Aini and Adi Harush,
which came under TPLF control in July.

  ARRA, Ethiopia's refugee body, has accused the TPLF of deploying heavy
artillery in both those camps, looting vehicles and warehouses and preventing
refugees from leaving -- creating what is "tantamount to a hostage
situation".

  The TPLF has dismissed such allegations and vowed to ensure the refugees'
protection.

  Ethiopian officials are trying to expedite the relocation of refugees out
of southern Tigray to a 90-hectare (225-acre) site in the neighbouring Amhara
region.

  Yet the TPLF launched an offensive into Amhara in July, and the region has
been hit hard by recent fighting.

  HRW said Thursday that all parties to the conflict should grant freedom of
movement to the refugees, as well as expanded access to aid.

 

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