Rebels not civilians killed in Aksum – Ethiopian AG

Many of the people killed in November in Ethiopia’s sacred city of Aksum, described by rights groups and witnesses as a massacre, were local Tigray rebels not civilians, prosecutors say.

The remarks by the attorney general’s office contradict earlier reports by rights groups, including the state-appointed Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

The EHRC’s report described the killing of more than 100 civilians in Aksum, which is in the northern region of Tigray, by Eritrean troops fighting alongside Ethiopian defence forces.

They were both backing an Ethiopian government offensive started in early November to oust Tigray’s former ruling party, the TPLF, from power after its fighters had captured federal military bases.

The attorney general’s office says its findings are based on its own investigation on the ground.

On 27 November, when Ethiopian troops left Aksum for another mission, Eritrean forces replaced them, it says.

After this forces loyal to the TPLF, together with youths from the area armed by the group, attacked them from their nearby base, the statement says.

In an-eight hour battle that ensued with the Eritrean troops 93 individuals “many of whom were fighters despite wearing civilian clothes” were killed, the attorney general’s office says.

Another five civilians were killed in shelling and one other civilian in an attempt to enforce curfew, the statement says.

But witnesses speaking to Amnesty International and the BBC have described the killings of hundreds of people taking mainly over two days.

In retaliation for the assault by between 50 and 80 poorly armed pro-TPLF fighters on an Eritrean position on a hill overlooking the city, witnesses say soldiers went on a rampage, shooting at unarmed civilian men and boys who were out on the streets.

An eyewitness told the BBC how bodies remained unburied on the streets for days, with many being eaten by hyenas.

Amnesty says its interviewees provided the names of more than 200 people they knew who were killed.

Two other people interviewed who were later assisting with burials have said they believe the number could be as high as 800.

Eritrea has dismissed accusations of the abuses detailed in Aksum as “preposterous” and “fabricated”.

Meanwhile, the attorney general’s office said it had identified Ethiopian soldiers and police officers accused of sexual assault after 116 cases of sexual violence had been registered with police during the conflict.

Prosecutors in Tigray would investigate accusations against members of the police; soldiers would be investigated by the army and those found guilty court-martialled, it said.

The conflict in Tigray is in its seventh month and although the government claimed victory at the end of November, fighting has continued.

Around 1.7 million people have fled their homes and rights groups say atrocities were committed by all sides involved.

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