Eritrean soldiers have opened fire on civilians in Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region, killing three people and wounding at least 19, according to Amnesty International.
In a statement on Wednesday, the rights watchdog said the “unprovoked attack” took place in the centre of Adwa town early on Monday, more than two weeks after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said Eritrea had agreed to withdraw the forces it had sent into the northern Ethiopian region during the conflict that broke out there in November 2020.
“Three people lost their lives and at least 19 others are in hospital from yet another unlawful attack by Eritrean troops on civilians in Tigray. Deliberate attacks on civilians are prohibited by international humanitarian law and must stop,” Amnesty East Africa Deputy Director Sarah Jackson said in the statement, which confirmed earlier reports of the attack.
Jackson reiterated Amnesty’s call for an international investigation of human rights abuses in the months-long conflict in Tigray, including possible war crimes and crimes against humanity.
11 critically injured patients were later transferred to Axum hospital, a facility also supported by MSF.
— MSF East Africa (@MSF_EastAfrica) April 13, 2021
On Monday, international medical charity Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, MSF) cited wounded patients in Adwa as saying that soldiers had opened fire on people near a bus station. It said those wounded were transported to MSF-supported facilities for treatment.
Eritrea has not commented on the Adwa shootings. It has previously denied multiple reports Eritreans have committed mass killings and rapes.
After months of tension, Abiy sent federal troops into Tigray on November 4 to detain and disarm leaders of the once-dominant regional governing party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
The winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize said the move came in response to TPLF-orchestrated attacks on army camps. The TPLF said the federal government and Eritrea launched a “coordinated attack” against it.
Abiy declared victory within weeks, but combat has continued and analysts warn of a prolonged deadlock in a conflict that is believed to have killed thousands of people.
Ethiopia and Eritrea long denied Eritreans were involved in the war, contradicting testimony from residents, rights groups, aid workers, diplomats and even some Ethiopian civilian and military officials.
Abiy finally acknowledged their presence in March while speaking to legislators. Eritrea has not made any public statements on the issue since Abiy’s admission.
Amnesty’s statement on Wednesday cited six witnesses who described how Eritrean soldiers drove through the centre of Adwa shooting at random.
“We scattered in different directions. I hid in the drainage … They were shooting from the backs of the moving trucks,” said one witness, identified by the pseudonym Teklu for security reasons.
Like witnesses interviewed by AFP earlier this week, Teklu said the Eritreans were easily identifiable because they spoke Tigrinya – the main language in Tigray and Eritrea – rode in vehicles with Eritrean number plates and wore “Eritrean defence force camouflages”.