At least 12 people were killed and dozens wounded in an attack on civilians displaced by the widening war in northern Ethiopia, a medical official told AFP Tuesday, signaling the rising humanitarian toll of the conflict.
The incident occurred on August 5 in Galicoma, a town in the Afar region, said Dr. Abubeker Mahammud, medical director of the Dubti Referral Hospital, where victims were being treated.
“Twelve dead bodies arrived at the hospital,” Abubeker told AFP. “The total number of injured victims is more than 46, almost around 50. Almost 75 percent of them had bullet injuries.”
Survivors told hospital officials they were shot by fighters from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), Abubeker said.
Northern Ethiopia has been wracked by fighting since last November when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops to topple the TPLF, then the ruling party of the Tigray region. The move came in response to TPLF attacks on federal army camps, said Abiy, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.
Although Abiy promised a swift victory, the war took a stunning turn in June when Tigrayan forces recaptured the regional capital Mekele and the Ethiopian army largely withdrew. Since then the TPLF has pushed east into neighboring Afar and south into the Amhara region.
Ethiopian officials have seized on the deaths in Galicoma as proof of the TPLF’s disregard for the worsening humanitarian situation in Tigray, where the UN says 400,000 people are living in famine-like conditions.
But TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda said on Twitter late Monday that government troops “launched an offensive on August 5 against our forces in Galicoma.” He said the TPLF would “work with relevant bodies to investigate any incident that may have occurred.”
The statement by #UNICEF https://t.co/5OryP1oZcz is quite alarming. It is to be recalled that #AbiyAhmed’s forces had launched an offensive on August 5 against our forces in Galicoma. The retreating forces burnt down a government warehouse full of supplies for the needy.
— Getachew K Reda (@reda_getachew) August 9, 2021
Two officials with Afar’s regional government put the death toll in Galicoma at more than 200, but that figure could not be independently verified.
Ayish Yasin, head of Afar’s bureau for women and children, told AFP Tuesday that “200 bodies of civilians have been recovered so far, while more than 48 are still missing.”
Golbe Sila, chief of staff for Afar’s regional president, also said the death toll was at least 200.
Ayish, who visited Galicoma Monday, said many of the victims were killed by artillery fire and buried immediately. They had been seeking shelter at an area where food aid was being stored, she said. “Out of the 200 bodies recovered, 107 are children — 48 girls and 59 boys,” she said. “The victims are civilians who had no role in the conflict.”
The head of the UN children’s agency UNICEF, Henrietta Fore, said Monday she was “extremely alarmed by the reported killing of over 200 people, including more than 100 children, in attacks on displaced families” in Afar.
UNICEF officials in New York did not respond to requests for comment, and the agency’s office in Addis Ababa said it did not have more information than what was in Fore’s statement.
UNHCR Regains Access
Aid agencies have struggled to get urgently needed humanitarian supplies to cut-off populations in Tigray as the violence has worsened.
On Tuesday, the United Nations said it had regained access to two Eritrean refugee camps in Tigray for the first time since July 13, warning of the dire situation facing the 23,000 people living there.
Although aid deliveries resumed on August 5, UNHCR spokesman Boris Cheshirkov told reporters in Geneva that access to the Mai Aini and Adi Harush camps continues to be “limited by a complex and fluid security situation.”
“Basic services such as healthcare remain unavailable, and clean drinking water is running out,” he added, reiterating a call to ease the passage of humanitarian convoys.
The TPLF has repeatedly said that it does not have designs on holding territory in Amhara and Afar and is instead focused on facilitating aid access.
The government, meanwhile, says a unilateral ceasefire it announced in late June was intended to allow aid deliveries, and that the TPLF’s subsequent offensive undermines that effort.