Civilians fleeing fighting in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region described bombing by government jets, shooting on the streets and killings by machete, as they joined thousands of refugees crossing into neighbouring Sudan.
Speaking to Reuters on Friday in the Sudanese border town of al-Fashqa, which is hosting more than 7,000 refugees, witnesses gave first hand accounts of the escalating conflict in Tigray, where government forces are battling fighters loyal to rebellious local leaders.
Reuters spoke to a dozen refugees. Many of them described seeing dead bodies strewn alongside the roads as they fled under cover of darkness, fearing they would be found and killed.
They said they expected many more Ethiopians to join them in Sudan in the coming days.
Barhat, 52, said she and others had fled from Moya Khadra after people from the Amhara region, which borders Tigray and whose rulers back Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, attacked them.
“They killed anyone who said they were Tigrayan. They stole our money, our cattle, and our crops from our homes and we ran with just the clothing on our backs,” she said.
Local Sudanese residents said they could hear the Ethiopian government’s airstrikes in Tigray until Tuesday and eyewitnesses said that some of the refugees were injured and transferred to a local medical facility.Slideshow ( 4 images )
“The bombing has demolished buildings and killed people. I escaped, part running on foot and part in a car. I’m afraid. Civilians are being killed,” said Hayali Kassi, a 33-year-old driver from Humera, a town near Ethiopia’s borders with Sudan and Eritrea.
FIGHTS OVER FOOD
Abiy has said government jets were bombing military targets in Tigray, including arms depots and equipment controlled by the Tigrayan forces.
Kassi and four other refugees said they had seen Eritrean soldiers fighting alongside the Ethiopian army against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Reuters could not independently confirm this.
Tigray’s leader, Debretsion Gebremichael, said on Tuesday that Eritrea had sent troops across the border in support of Ethiopian government forces but provided no evidence.
Eritrea’s Foreign Minister Osman Saleh Mohammed denied this, telling Reuters: “We are not part of the conflict.” The Eritrean foreign ministry did not immediately respond to calls for further comment on the refugees’ claims.
Sudanese security sources told Reuters that some armed individuals in military uniform had crossed into Sudan from Ethiopia. Reuters could not determine which side they belonged to.
A Reuters witness said many of those who fled to al-Fashqa, which lies along the banks of the Tezeke river, were women and children. Quarrels broke out over limited supplies of food and water provided by the Sudanese army.
“Hunger rules here, and international organizations have not yet provided assistance… large numbers flowed across the border over the last three days and their numbers are far bigger than the government had estimated,” said a local security official in al-Fashqa.
The U.N. refugee agency said in a statement on Friday that the fighting in Ethiopia had prompted more than 14,500 people to flee into Sudan so far.