Tigrayan rebel forces have killed dozens of civilians during their latest occupation of a town in the Amhara region, survivors claim, after fighting resumed last month in the northern area of Ethiopia.
The alleged killings took place in the town of Kobo, located along the highway to the capital, Addis Ababa. Between 13-15 September, Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) fighters shot dead unarmed civilians they suspected of supporting federal forces and local militias, survivors have told the Guardian.
In one district of Kobo alone, witnesses counted 17 bodies of people killed over two days.
Fighting between Ethiopian federal forces and Tigrayan rebels erupted again in late August, shattering a six-month humanitarian truce. On 4 September the TPLF announced it had captured Kobo but in the past week rebels withdrew from the town amid fierce fighting with federal troops and Amhara militias.
Meanwhile, fighters were killing people and looting in Kobo, residents said.
“It started on Tuesday, 13 September. Before that day the Tigray fighters were intimidating residents, looting, and searching for hidden arms. There was no fighting inside Kobo when they committed the killings. Federal troops had already withdrawn weeks earlier and it was Tigray forces who had fully occupied the town,” said Bekalu*, a 47-year-old father of three who fled the town after witnessing the killings.
The extrajudicial executions were carried out during house-to-house searches by the rebels, according to the testimonies of seven survivors.
“On 14 September a group of Tigray fighters came to our neighbourhood. They were searching houses, harassing civilians they found inside and asking them where they hid weapons. They would torture those who replied that they didn’t have weapons.
“Then I began hearing gunshots and screams of neighbours. The fighters were shouting ‘kill them, they are dogs of Amhara militias’,” said Mekdes*, 29, who survived by hiding in a neighbour’s house.
Another witness told of seeing a woman and her son murdered. “I saw the Tigray fighters dragging out a mother and her teenage son from their house to the road. They viciously beat them. They were yelling at them: ‘Your husband is an Amhara militiaman.’ The mother was screaming: ‘That’s not true. Please stop, leave my son. We don’t have guns’,” said Sentayhu*, 53, a shopkeeper who fled Kobo after the killings.
“They shot both the son and his mother in the head. The woman, who I know by sight as a local resident, was in her 60s and her son was 17 years old. They looted everything in my shop. They threatened me to give them all the money I have, or they would kill me.
“I was relieved they stopped by looting the shop and did not shoot me like other residents. Terrorised by what I saw, I fled the next day, leaving behind everything I had,” he said.
Witnesses shared with the Guardian a list of the names and ages of some of the victims whose bodies they could identify, including women and teenagers.
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