JOHANNESBURG – Ethiopia’s military prosecutors have convicted three soldiers of rape and pressed charges against 28 others suspected of killing civilians in the ongoing conflict in the northern Tigray region, the attorney general’s office announced Friday.
In addition, 25 other soldiers are charged with rape and other forms of sexual violence, the statement said.
The 6-month-old Tigray conflict is blamed for the deaths of thousands of people and atrocities including rape, extrajudicial killings, and forced evictions, according to local authorities and aid groups.
The statement by the attorney general’s office also confirmed reports of two massacres in Tigray. It said that 229 civilians were killed in the town of Mai Kadra at the beginning of November. And it said that 110 civilians were killed in the city of Axum on Nov. 27 and 28 “by Eritrean troops.”
“The investigation shows that 70 civilians have been killed in the city [of Axum] while they were outdoors,” said the report, adding that some of those killed might have been “irregular combatants.” “Forty civilians seem to have been taken out of their homes and killed in home-to-home raids conducted by Eritrean troops,” said the report.
The deadly Tigray conflict started on Nov. 4 after Ethiopia accused former leaders of the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front, or TPLF, of ordering an attack on an Ethiopian army base in the region.
Ethiopia’s leader, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, sent troops that quickly ousted the TPLF from Tigray’s major cities and towns, but a guerilla fight is widely reported to be continuing across the region.
Reports of atrocities have led U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to allege that “ethnic cleansing” is taking place in the western Tigray area.
On Thursday, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution condemning “all violence against civilians” in Tigray and calling for the withdrawal of troops from neighboring Eritrea, which also sent troops to Tigray to support the Ethiopian government.
On Friday, some Ethiopians both at home and abroad staged a “Hands Off Ethiopia” social media campaign in which they urged foreign countries to stop “meddling in Ethiopia’s affairs.”
Abiy, who came to power in 2018 and introduced sweeping democratic reforms for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019, has promised that the upcoming parliamentary elections on June 21 will be free and fair. His Prosperity Party must win a majority of seats in Ethiopia’s parliament for him to remain prime minister.
In addition to the Tigray conflict, Abiy’s government is struggling to contain ethnic violence in several regions of Ethiopia. The opposition Oromo Federalist Congress has pledged to boycott the vote, saying it is being harassed by the authorities. Several of its leaders are still in prison following a wave of violent unrest sparked last summer by the killing of an Oromo musician.