Slaughter on Eve of Ethiopian Peace Draws Accusations of War Crimes

Eritrean troops have been accused of war crimes in the northern Tigray region just weeks before a peace agreement was signed last year.

Abdi Latif Dahir and 

Reporting from Nairobi, Kenya

Just before the peace agreement to end Ethiopia’s civil war, troops from neighboring Eritrea massacred hundreds of civilians, looted businesses and arbitrarily detained civilians already facing extraordinary suffering, according to rights groups, aid workers and news outlets.

The Eritrean soldiers were fighting on the side of the Ethiopian government, which was waging a two-year civil war against the leadership of the northern Tigray region.

The gruesome accounts underscore the ugly nature of a conflict that killed hundreds of thousands of people, displaced millions and upended life in Africa’s second most populous nation. The violence reached a climax last fall, after a five-month truce was shattered in August and before the beginning of the formal peace talks in South Africa in late October that led, within days, to the end of the war.

On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that Eritrean forces killed hundreds of people, including teachers and farmers, at the very end of that period, just days before the warring parties agreed to end the hostilities. Relatives of those killed described horrific scenes, including parents being shot in front of their children.

Last month, Tigrayan officials reported a spate of killings late last year, including those of five young men who they said were shot by Eritrean forces and buried together in a village in eastern Tigray. Human Rights Watch also documented that civilians suffered from bombardments from Ethiopian and Eritrean forces as they launched major campaigns to capture strategic towns like Shire in October.

The U.S. has confirmed that Eritrean troops were in Ethiopia and remained so, even though the peace deal in November called for all foreign forces to withdraw from the Tigray region, and eyewitnesses in the region told The New York Times they had seen the troops. But Ethiopia has denied the presence of any security forces other than its own in the Tigray region. In a rare news conference, in February, President Afwerki dismissed his country’s involvement in human rights abuses in Tigray as a “fantasy.”