15 Sep 2021, 09:42

Stench of death: villagers flee site of Ethiopia mass killings

  CHENNA, Ethiopia, Sept 15, 2021 (BSS/AFP) - Bodies of rebel fighters dot
the roads and fields leading to Chenna, a village in the mountains of
northern Ethiopia that this month saw one of the most gruesome reported
incidents in the country's 10-month-old war.

  Last week, the government accused the rebels, the Tigray People's
Liberation Front (TPLF), of massacring as many as 200 civilians in Chenna,
including women and children. Medics put the death toll at 125 but told AFP
it could climb.

  The TPLF rejected the allegations, while accusing Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed
of sending "priests, women and children" into battle as cannon fodder.

  Chenna is located in Ethiopia's Amhara region which lies south of Tigray,
where fighting broke out last November between pro-government forces and the

  Despite Abiy vowing a swift victory, fighting has spread in recent months
into the neighbouring regions of Amhara and Afar, displacing hundreds of
thousands of people and killing an untold number of civilians.

  The violence in Chenna unfolded in early September, and the village -- a
rambling collection of mud homes -- is now mostly empty, its residents driven
away by the stench of death.

  "We haven't buried all the people. We have been burying our people who have
been massacred. We were doing that for four days straight," Amhara militia
fighter Yalew Kasse told AFP on Tuesday.

  - Entire family 'annihilated' -

  Stones and leaves have been placed over a freshly dug mass grave outside
the village's Orthodox Christian church, and militia fighters said the graves
of still more civilians could be found elsewhere, sometimes right outside
their homes.

  "They annihilated one whole family: a mother, a father, a four-year-old boy
and a six-year-old girl," Yalew said.

  Mebratu Adane, a spokesman for a local militia, said most of the bodies
that have not been buried were those of TPLF rebels.

  "The villagers couldn't stand the smell of the bodies so they fled," he

  AFP has not been able to independently confirm the number of victims or
verify whether any of the civilians reportedly killed in Chenna might have
been combatants.

  The fighting in Amhara has amplified global concern about the war in
northern Ethiopia, which has killed many thousands of people and pushed
hundreds of thousands into famine-like conditions, according to the United

  UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet warned Monday that the widening war
"risks spilling over to the whole Horn of Africa".

  "Even with the changing dynamics in the conflict, there has been one
constant: multiple and severe reports of alleged gross violations of human
rights, humanitarian and refugee law by all parties," she said.

  Outside efforts to broker talks have made no visible headway, meaning more
intense fighting is likely in the offing.

  In Dabat, a town southeast of Chenna, Ethiopian soldiers conducted weapons
and fitness drills on Tuesday while preparing to push farther north.

  "We'll beat the junta," the soldiers sang as they marched through the
streets of Dabat once the drills were over, using a pejorative term to refer
to the TPLF.

  "We are planning to go to the north and destroy the junta, and we are well
prepared," said Colonel Eshetu, who gave only his first name.

  "We have been training for more than three weeks," he said. "Our soldiers
are more than capable of destroying the Tigray rebel force."


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