In early February, the crash of shells and bullets in the remote Jawmaro mountains in northern Ethiopia seemed to have stopped.
Civilians in Abi Addi, a town in the Temben region of Central Tigray, were relieved. At last, a small measure of peace.
But on February 10, all the terrors of Ethiopia’s civil war descended on the town and at least a dozen surrounding villages.
In exclusive testimony shared with the Telegraph, 18 witnesses told how Ethiopian federal soldiers and Eritrean troops surrounded the area and went from house to house killing a total of 182 people.
“I saw dead bodies scattered, bodies half-eaten by dogs. The soldiers did not allow anyone to get close to the corpses,” said 26-year-old Tesfay Gebremedhin from the village of Semret, who fled into the mountains along with many other terrified young men.
“But later, they started to feel disturbed by the terrible smell of the dead bodies. So they covered the bodies with dust.”
One of those who survived the massacre in Wetelako village was five-year-old Merhawit Weldegebreal. She was shot in her leg. Her uncle, Abrha Zenebe, died trying to shield her from the bullets.
“The soldiers came and shouted at my uncle. They also shouted at my father. But dad ran away. The soldiers hit my uncle in his leg with their guns. And then they shot him in his belly. They also shot me in my knee,” the little girl told the Telegraph on the phone from her hospital bed in the Ayder hospital in the regional capital Mekele.
Since the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent the most powerful military in Africa into the country’s northern Tigray region to oust its ruling party in November, all hell has been unleashed on the ethnic Tigrayans people.
Mr Abiy sided with forces from Eritrea and ethnic militias from Tigray’s neighbouring Amhara region to crush forces loyal to the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in a three-pronged attack.
Now a deluge of credible reports pointing towards a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing, rape and man-made starvation are emerging.
Survivors told the Telegraph that civilians, mainly farmers, had been massacred in Abi Addi and the villages of Adi Asmiean, Bega Sheka, Adichilo, Amberswa, Wetlaqo, Semret, Guya, Zelakme, Arena, Mitsawerki, Yeqyer and Shilum Emni – villages about 60 miles from Tigray’s capital.
Four brothers in their 20s were among those killed at Adi Asmiean. Gebremedhin, Kibrom, Gueshaya and Tesfamariym Araya were at the family farm, harvesting their sorghum crop when Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers arrived.
Witnesses told the Telegraph they were shot and their bodies were dumped in a nearby crater. It took five days for their father, Araya Gebretekle, and his eldest son, Mebrahten Araya, to find the bodies of their loved ones.
“When they took my sons, I was in town with Mebrahten purchasing some goods. Returning home, I heard neighbours saying the Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers took many young men from the village. That was when I also learned my sons were among those taken,” says Mr Araya.
Mr Araya was only able to identify his sons by their clothing. “They asked me if I was sure the bodies belonged to my sons. I told them I was sure. How can I not know my sons?” he says.
In the village of Adi Asmiean near Abi Addi, parents and elders say that they begged Ethiopian soldiers to allow burials to take place.
“On February 15, the Ethiopian soldiers showed us the whereabouts of the dead bodies they threw into the crater. We went there with some parents of the dead. When we arrived, all villagers could not move an inch towards the bodies because of the terrible smell,” says Hadush Meruts, a local priest.
Mr Meruts and three other priests managed to retrieve just seven corpses.
“It was difficult to pull them out. Most were already eaten by wild animals. Others were half-eaten by dogs. Their bodies were torn into pieces; their faces were filled with insects. We splashed fuel on the bodies to cleanse the insects,” he says.
When asked for comment about the massacre, Eritrea’s information minister, Yemane Gebremeskel, could not address the events of Abi Addi specifically.
“The government of Eritrea has zero tolerance for and never targets civilians in war. But in the past four months, we have seen a barrage of fabricated accusations mainly from TPLF remnants,” he said.
The Telegraph asked the Ethiopian Prime Minister’s office to comment but had received none at the time of going to press.
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