Hailay Berhe holds a picture of his father who relatives say was killed by Eritrean soldiers. In the background is a facsimile of a cellphone video purportedly showing Eritrean soldiers and a tank in the city of Wukro. As journalists are not allowed to enter the area, it is difficult to verify the information.

For over a month, Sahle Semere and Hailay Berhe lived in uncertain terms about what happened to family members in Tigray. Both are Ethiopians and reside in Norway. Their families were in the countryside of the region that went to war with the Ethiopian government army and its allies.

By Jan Speed (29.01.2021)

[Rough translation from a Norwegian magazine Bistandsaktuelt]

When government forces began their invasion of Tigray province in early November last year, all online and telephone connections were cut. A local TV station in Tigray broadcast for a few weeks before it was over, while some information was sent out through social media by people with foreign mobile phones.

But there are still no journalists or independent human rights investigators who have been allowed to travel freely in Tigray. For the same reason, it has been difficult to verify the many stories told of murders and abuses carried out by the parties to the conflict.

Both Sahle and Hailay had families living in the countryside of eastern Tigray. Prime Minister and Peace Prize laureate Abiy Ahmed downplayed the seriousness of the war, calling the military action “a police action.” The goal, according to Abiy, was to arrest the leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the former leadership of the province. The TPLF government, like several other state governments in Ethiopia, had its own armed forces, and resisted strongly.

It became clear early on that the government army allied itself with the armed forces of the Amhara region. Eventually, there were also reports that Eritrean forces had moved into Tigray. This is officially rejected by the central government, but indirectly admitted by an Ethiopian general and by others in the administration.

When government forces captured the provincial capital Mekelle after a month, the telephone connection was restored. Tigrayans abroad waited anxiously for news of their families.

The message Sahle Semere (pictured above) received from relatives via Facebook was not what he wanted to hear: His father had been killed. He lived in the eastern zone of the region and was 82 years old. They came to his house, stole his cattle and destroyed everything on the farm. Afterwards, he was killed right in front of the house, just because he was a Tigrayan,” Sahle told The Associated.

Relatives who visited the farm in mid-December told me that both Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers had been present when it happened, but that it was the Eritreans who did it. They were talking Tigrigna. They also threatened to kill my mother-in-law when she started shouting out loud. The soldiers said no one was allowed to bury my father. The body was left outside the house for two days, according to what Sahle learned from the relatives.

Hailay Berhe was participating in a demonstration outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Oslo and bears a picture. It is of his father – he was only 65 years old. Eritrean soldiers came and began to plunder everything he had. They took his cattle and his solar panels. He asked ‘why are you taking my possessions, I’m just a farmer’. And that’s why they killed him,” Hailay says. I keep thinking about this and I’m afraid for the rest of the family who are in Tigray. We know that many are starving. He was told of his father’s death by a relative who managed to make it to the regional capital, Mekelle.

According to the UN, the situation in large parts of Tigray remains “unstable and unpredictable.” There is active fighting in several parts of the province.

A Facebook video obtained by The Associated Police purportedly shows Eritrean troops in the town of Wukro. It is allegedly filmed in an alley way by mobile phone and shows at least two tanks, several trucks and dozens of soldiers moving up one of the main streets. There is no independent verification of the film, and no information about when it was recorded.

Demands from the United States

The new U.S. administration requested Wednesday that all soldiers from Eritrea immediately leave the war-torn Tigray region of Ethiopia, reports NTB. A Spokesperson for the US State Department referred to reports of looting, sexual violence, attacks in refugee camps and other human rights violations in Tigray.” There is also evidence that Eritrean soldiers are forcing Eritrean refugees to return from Tigray to Eritrea,” the spokesperson writes in an email to the AP news agency.