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Crisis in Ethiopia: Tigray refugees in Sudan confess to brutal fighting




We did not bring any food or clothes, we just saved to save our lives and the lives of our children, she added.

Nearby, Semere Tesfai described how human heads were detached from bodies woven with knives and axes, terrifying thousands who walked for days to seek safety in Sudan.

This is a genocide against the Tigray people, said Semere, 35, an English teacher who said he escaped the Tigray conflict last week along with cousins, neighbors and some colleagues. It can not be described as less than that.

As he and relatives fled, Semere said, government soldiers shouted: Abiy Ahmed rules. We will rule you.

The civilians are fleeing fighting between the Ethiopian army and loyal forces of the powerful faction that rules Tigray. Each claims that the other is the aggressor in an explosion of violence that has already killed hundreds and that threatens to undermine the economic and political reforms in the country and snatch the unstable Horn of Africa.

Zam Zam and Semere’s accounts of the violence cannot be independently verified. Billene Seyoum, a spokeswoman for Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, denied that government troops were killing civilians and said they targeted militias fighting on behalf of Tigris rulers.

The guarantee we have from the national defense forces and the information we have is that there is no attack on civilians, she said. We are convinced that this has been something that is being deliberately manipulated, to make sure that there is an influx of refugees on the other side, in order to escalate the call for humanitarian intervention and to internationalize the issue.

Abiy vowed on Wednesday that his government would protect Tigris fleeing the fighting.

We promise our innocent civilians who have fled, to protect their property, to provide humanitarian support by the ENDF and to guarantee their peace upon return, Abiy said in a tweet, referring to the Ethiopian National Defense Force.

The UN Refugee Agency warned that a full-scale humanitarian crisis was unfolding around Tigray, with about 4,000 Ethiopians fleeing across the border into Sudan every day. A wave of 27,000 refugees has already poured into Sudan since the conflict erupted earlier this month and humanitarian groups on the ground were overwhelmed, the agency said.

People are coming from Ethiopia really scared, scared, with stories that say they have escaped heavy fighting, said UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch. There is no sign of a ceasefire.

Abiy ordered troops in Tigray on November 4 after the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) attacked federal military bases and attempted to access artillery and military equipment. He has demanded that the TPLF, which for decades was the dominant political force in the country’s multiethnic ruling coalition, hand over control and order the Tigrays security forces to lay down their arms.

He has ignored growing international calls for negotiations to end the fighting, saying he will only negotiate when the rule of law is restored in Tigray.

He urged all parties to show restraint, protect civilians and open humanitarian corridors so that aid workers can help those in need. Civilians, including U.S. citizens, should be protected from harm and provided with humanitarian assistance and safe passage from the conflict, Pompeo said.

Abiy, who won the Nobel Peace Prize last year, warned on Tuesday that federal troops were closing in on the Tigris capital, Mekele. The final critical act of law enforcement will be done in the coming days, he said.

Ethiopia says its air force hits unspecified TPLF targets outside Mecca on Monday and liberated four areas on the eastern front.

UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet expressed concern that the war could spiral out of control and raised the possibility that war crimes had been committed. Amnesty International, citing witnesses, said last week that there was evidence of one massacre of civilians stabbed and hacked to death in the Mai-Kadra town region in Tigray, days after the conflict first erupted.

At the temporary camp guarded by the Sudanese army, Zam Zam said, food and blankets are running out amid rising refugees. She and others are waiting to be relocated to UN-run camps where they will be housed.

“I want nothing more than to see an end to the war so that we can return to our homeland,” she said.

Wroughton reported from Cape Town.

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