Ethiopia: Airstrike on Tigray market kills dozens, witnesses say | News | DW | 23.06.2021

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Ethiopia: Airstrike on Tigray market kills dozens, witnesses say

The attack comes after Ethiopians recently voted in a parliamentary election. The US has previously accused Ethiopian government forces of ethnic cleansing in the Tigray region.

Ethiopian government forces

The Ethiopian government has waged a military offensive against rebels in Tigray since last year

Dozens of people were killed by an airstrike in Ethiopia's restive northern Tigray region, witnesses said on Wednesday.

What do we know so far?

The airstrike hit a market in the Tigrayan town of Togoga. 

A medical official told Reuters news agency that the airstrike killed at least 43 people. She claimed Ethiopian military forces blocked the road from the nearby Tigrayan capital of Mekelle to the town, preventing ambulances from reaching the scene of the attack.

"There were lots of injured people and dead people," 20-year-old survivor Birhan Gebrehiwet, whose house was destroyed in the airstrike, told the AFP news agency. "We were stepping on them and in their blood."

Ethiopian military spokesman Getnet Adane denied that ambulances were blocked. He did not confirm or deny the military's involvement in the airstrike. 

A statement from EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell and Crisis Management Commissioner Janez Lenarcic strongly condemned the airstrike and called it "extremely worrying."

"If confirmed, the blocking of ambulances trying to provide medical assistance to the wounded after the bombardment is unacceptable," the EU statement said. "Such practice constitutes a grave violation of the Geneva Convention and of International Humanitarian Law."

What is the political situation in Ethiopia?

The attack came after Ethiopians voted in a parliamentary election on Monday, with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed likely to win another term. Ballots are still being counted, with citizens in Tigray not being able to take part in the voting. 

The election, which had been postponed from last year, also faced a widespread boycott from parties belonging to the ethnic Oromia minority.

African Union observers said Wednesday that the election was held in a "credible" manner. 

Why is there armed conflict in Tigray?

The Tigray conflict began in November. Militants belonging to the ethnic nationalist Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) attacked Ethiopian military bases in Tigray. The TPLF, which also serves as a political party and was the region's ruling party, accused Ahmed of being an illegitimate leader since last year's elections were postponed due to the coronavirus.

In response to the TPLF attacks, Ahmed launched a military offensive against the group. He accused the TPLF of committing treason against the state of Ethiopia. 

The US has accused Ethiopia's military of the ethnic cleansing of Tigrayans with the offensive. Ahmed, who had previously received the Nobel Peace Prize, has admitted atrocities have been committed in Tigray, but he said those soldiers would be held responsible.

Eritrean troops are also participating in the offensive against the TPLF and have been accused of war crimes.

Although the Ethiopian government said the Eritreans would withdraw from Tigray soon, a UN human rights expert said Tuesday that Eritrean forces now have "effective control" of parts of the region.

wd/sms (AFP, Reuters, AP)