Exclusive: Witnesses say federal forces have been looting villages and shooting farmers in their hunt for defiant Fano militiamen
Ethiopian soldiers killed more than 70 civilians and looted properties in a town in Amhara, multiple witnesses have claimed.
The killings took place in Majete, a rural town in north-eastern Ethiopia, after two weeks of heavy fighting between federal soldiers and the Fano, an Amhara militia.
The alleged atrocities occurred after Ethiopian troops occupied the town on 3 September. Survivors who spoke to the Guardian said the victims were unarmed farmers.
“As soon as the federal soldiers swept into the town, they conducted house-to-house searches,” said Yesaynesh*, a 29-year-old woman whose two younger brothers were killed.
“They came to our village late afternoon. They asked me and my family where we hide our weapons and threatened us to [make us] hand over the weapons to them.
“We told them that we are innocent farmers and we don’t have weapons. When they found no weapon after searching the house, they rounded up my two brothers alongside the younger men of our village and shot them all in the head.”
Fighting between the government and the militia, who were allies in the war in Tigray that ended in November, erupted last month after the prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, announced plans to dismantle regional paramilitary forces and absorb them into the national army. The Fano militia refused to surrender its weapons.
The government declared a nationwide state of emergency on 4 August. Since then reports have emerged of airstrikes and civilian casualties across the Amhara region.
Amnesty International has called on the Ethiopian authorities to grant independent investigators and the media unfettered access to Amhara to look into alleged human rights violations during the state of emergency.
“My uncle was an elderly farmer with no association to the Fano militia,” said Alem*, a 35-year-old mother of three who fled her home town after witnessing the killings. “The federal soldiers looted our livestock and killed my uncle together with other neighbours, who were also innocent farmers.
“They carried out the killings and looting, saying it is the farmers who are feeding the Fano militia fighters.”
One farmer described how the federal troops looted all his property during a house-to-house search.
“The soldiers of Abiy Ahmed mercilessly took all my cattle, the food grains I stored, and fertiliser. When I begged them to leave at least a few of my cattle, they slapped me in the face. They have also looted cattle from other farmers,” said Sahlu*, 62.
Worekye*, a 49-year-old mother of five, saw her husband shot in front of her. “Terrified by the news of killings we received from our relatives in nearby villages, we were sitting in our house locking the doors when the federal troops arrived.
“I hoped they would pass our house when we did not answer their knock. But they broke in and became angry when they found us inside,” she said tearfully.
“They questioned my husband, [asking] if he is a Fano militia member hiding from them. My husband tried to explain that he is a civilian and begged them not to kill him. But the soldiers did not listen. They shot dead my husband in front of me. Then they said to me to bury him, kicking his dead body as if he was not a human being.”
Other survivors shared similar testimonies of federal soldiers terrorising villagers, accusing them of supporting Fano, and hiding fighters and weapons in their homes.
“They threaten residents to give them information about the Fano militia. They threaten people to confess if they have any family members who joined the Fano militia group.
“I am living in fear. Every hour the federal soldiers came to search houses or stop me for interrogation; I am very scared that they will arbitrarily kill me, just like they did with the other innocent victims,” said Zuryash*, who lives in Majete.
Last month, Marta Hurtado, a spokesperson for the UN commissioner for human rights, expressed concern about the deteriorating situation in Amhara, where at least 183 people have been killed since July.
Last month at least 26 people were reportedly killed in a drone strike in the town of Finote Selam.
In a statement, Hurtado confirmed reports of house-to-house searches taking place in Amhara since early August. “We call on all actors to stop killings, other violations and abuses,” she said.
The EU and the US have expressed concern over the fighting in Amhara and reports of human rights abuses.
The federal army and the Fano militia, as well as Eritrean troops, have been accused of crimes against humanity during the Tigray war, including ethnic cleansing, torture and sexual violence.
The Ethiopian prime minister’s office has been approached for comment.
* Names have been changed
(c) 2023, The Guardian