Despite a peace agreement signed in early November, Tigray is living in disarray and fear, with daily shortages, but also violence, expulsions and looting committed by allies of the Ethiopian army, according to residents and humanitarian workers.
Since the agreement signed in Pretoria between the rebel authorities of Tigray, from the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), and the federal government of Ethiopia, the fighting has stopped. Food and medical aid are gradually arriving and the regional capital Mekele has been connected to the national power grid.
However, residents and aid workers from various parts of Tigray told AFP – mostly on the condition of anonymity for security reasons – that looting and persecution of civilians continue in the region.
They blame the army of Eritrea, which borders Tigray's northern border, and fighters from the Amhara region, which borders its southern border, both of which have been supporting the Ethiopian army in the conflict but whose leaders did not attend the Pretoria talks.
Access and communications in Tigray are restricted, making it impossible to independently verify the situation on the ground.
According to two aid workers who travelled through the region between late November and early December, these troops are present for hundreds of kilometres, from western Tigray to central Tigray, from the town of Humera to Adwa.
They arrived in October in Shire, in the northwestern part of the region, where a climate of terror has prevailed since then, according to one resident.
“For the past two months, Shire has been almost a dead town,” he said in mid-December, referring to “continuous looting and abductions. “Women are afraid to leave their homes for fear of sexual violence,” he added.
He also described “a very precarious existence”, with people queuing for water, donkeys replacing cars in the streets, and no money…
– Looting, kidnapping, rape –
In mid-November, an aid worker based in Shire told AFP: “The Amhara forces are looting houses and government offices, as well as abducting mainly young men and women (…) Eritrean soldiers also continue to loot and kidnap young people.
“The Ethiopian army and the other security forces (including the police) are watching and not intervening,” he said.
On December 1, he also reported “eleven cases of rape” recorded by his organization.
The rebel authorities, who “disengaged” two-thirds of their fighters after the agreement, regularly accuse the Eritrean army of abuses and “massacres” of civilians.
The head of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, of Tigrayan origin, announced on December 15 that his uncle had been “murdered by the Eritrean army”, along with fifty other villagers.
A resident of Adwa told AFP on December 22 that she knew of “a family of seven who was murdered by the Eritreans in Mariam-Shewito,” a village about ten kilometres from the city.
Eritreans and Amhara nationalists have a historical animosity towards Tigray.
Eritrea has been a sworn enemy of the TPLF since a bloody border war in 1998-2000 when the party was in power in Ethiopia (1991-2018).
Some Amhara believes they were robbed of fertile land attached to Tigray when the TPLF came to power in 1991. When the conflict began in November 2020, regional forces and Amhara militias took over this area of western Tigray.
– “We're scared” –
In southwestern Tigray, a resident of the town of Mai Tsebri said in early December that “the new rulers (who have arrived since October) in the Amhara region have banned the use of Tigrigna (the Tigrayan language), are deporting and expelling ethnic Tigrayans and looting their properties.
“We are worried, we are afraid for our safety and our future,” he confided.
“The new rulers have started issuing identity cards to people they consider to be ethnic Amhara, as well as to settlers who arrived with the new authorities,” he added.
An aid worker who visited the region also reported the arrival of large numbers of Amhara, particularly in Humera, along with expulsions of Tigrayans to the other side of the Tekeze River, which forms the boundary of Western Tigray. He also mentioned detention camps.
As early as March 2021, the United States had denounced acts of “ethnic cleansing” in Western Tigray, accusations that were renewed by NGOs that