The first foreign aid convoy arrived in the war-hit Tigray region on Tuesday, as the conflict triggered a refugee crisis and humanitarian disaster.
Ethiopia’s government launched a month-long attack on the region on November 4, battling forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said seven trucks brought medicines and medical equipment for 400 wounded as well as relief supplies to Mekele, a city of half a million that had been all-but cut off to foreign aid since fighting began.
“This is exciting. The ICRC and the Ethiopian Red Cross trucks arrived and so here we are, in Mekele,” said Maria Soledad Rueda Garcia, Head of ICRC’s Operations.
Attacks on civilians
Meanwhile, residents in the small farming village of Bisober recounted the devastating attacks.
Jano Admasi, a soft-spoken woman in her sixties, tried to escape on November 14. She was running with her eldest son, 46-year-old Miskana, along a dirt road leading out of the village.
But on the way, she says, they encountered Ethiopian government soldiers who turned them around, forcing them into a nearby house with two other terrified families.
The soldiers made the men including Miskana sit down and, before Jano fully realised what was happening, shot them dead with Kalashnikov rifles.
“They asked us who we were, and we said we are just farmers and elderly women. And we are stranded here,” said Admasi.
“They told us don’t leave because flying bullets can kill you. And they came back again and said get out and separated the men from the women.
“They put the women behind and they killed all the men. We shouted out loud but we were helpless. We stayed there with corpses and left after two days.”
Survivors told AFP they dreaded how many civilians could have died across Tigray.
“If in just this one area you have this much destruction,” said Bisober resident Getachew Abera, “then imagine what might have happened generally.”
The military did not respond to a request for comment.
Bisober residents say seven months ago members of the Tigray Special Forces took over the village’s elementary school, which had been emptied because of the coronavirus pandemic.
By early November, when the first shots were fired, some 250 pro-TPLF troops were encamped there, digging trenches behind classrooms and storing weapons in what was once the principal’s office.
The Tigrayan fighters’ decision to base themselves in the centre of Bisober helps explain the carnage that ensued, said Getachew Nega, the village administrator.
“The TPLF lost hope and they came and put heavy weapons and other weapons in this village. They shouldn’t have done this,” Getachew said.
Ethiopia’s Prime minister declared victory over the region in November but the Tigray People’s Liberation Front has vowed to fight on.
The UN has reported recent clashes in the region.