< In Ethiopia: ‘Their Aim Is to Erase Tigray’
By Dan Friedell
16 April 2021

Seid Mussa Omar is Tigrayan.

He said only 10 Tigrayans remained of about 400 who worked with him at a hospital in northern Ethiopia. The rest were killed or fled.

Seid's original paper showing his Tigrayan ethnicity was taken away and burned, he said. He showed reporters his new identification paper. It is in Amharic language. It does not mention anything about being Tigray.

"This is genocide ... Their aim is to erase Tigray," he said.

This March 17, 2021 photo shows a new ID card issued by Amhara authorities to Seid Mussa Omar, a 29-year-old Tigrayan nurse from Humera. Amhara authorities took his original ID card and burned it, he said. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)
This March 17, 2021 photo shows a new ID card issued by Amhara authorities to Seid Mussa Omar, a 29-year-old Tigrayan nurse from Humera. Amhara authorities took his original ID card and burned it, he said. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

The Associated Press confirmed the same thing happened with nine other refugees. They arrived in Sudan with gunshot wounds and cuts on their backs. They told stories of dead bodies lying along the river. They said women were raped and children, weakened by hunger, were left behind.

When reporters asked about the new Amharic identification papers, the prime minister's office said the area is under a temporary administration. It said the people "are all from the region."

"Ethnic cleansing"

Last month, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called what has happened in Tigray "ethnic cleansing." That is when a group of people is being forced to leave an area, often including killings and rapes. It is the first time a top official in the international community has used the term to describe the situation in northern Ethiopia.

Refugees and international experts have accused the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and others of punishing the 6 million Tigrayans in northern Ethiopia. Abiy's mother was Amharan. They said Abiy teamed up with ethnic Amharans and soldiers from neighboring Eritrea to divide the area.

The conflict began in November as a political dispute. Tigray leaders had been leading Ethiopia's government for nearly 30 years. They created a system of ethnic-based states in different areas.

When Abiy took office in 2018, he kept all the power and removed the Tigray leaders. Abiy made peace with Eritrea after years of war, earning a Nobel Peace Prize in 2019.

After last year's election was delayed, Tigray leaders viewed Abiy's government as illegal and held their own vote. The Abiy government then opened a military offensive, saying Tigrayan forces had attacked a military base.

Abiy won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for his work to bring peace to Ethiopia and resolve the conflict with Eritrea. The organization offered the prize to Abiy while warning: "many challenges remain unresolved."

The current fighting seems to be one of those challenges.

"I know the conflict has caused unimaginable suffering," Abiy wrote last December. He argued, however, that the heavy fighting was necessary to hold the country together.

How many have been killed?

In recent days, refugees told the Associated Press that Amharan officials and fighters allied with the government took over whole communities. They loaded thousands of Tigrayans onto trucks and took them away. Goitom Hagos, a refugee from Humera said he did not know where they went.

Seid said the hospital he worked for was attacked early in the conflict, so he left. The only people left in the area he once lived in were old people and children. They had been told not to speak their own Tigray language. Only Amharic was permitted.

One pregnant woman, Lemlem Gebrehiwet, had to leave her home because she was told the area was now under Amharan control. She gave birth just three days after arriving in Sudan.

Alem Mebrahtu had been separated from her children. She heard they were in Sudan so she left Tigray to look for them. She said she saw about 50 dead bodies when crossing the Tekeze River, which separates Ethiopia from Sudan. She said she had to pretend to be a different ethnicity in order to cross safely.

"I hope there will be a Tigray for my children to go home to," Alem said.

Beyond the killing, female refugees from Tigray said they have been raped by male fighters. One man who saw Tigray women being taken away and raped by fighters said: "They do these things openly to make us ashamed." The United Nations said 500 rapes have been reported.

The people who are now safe in refugee camps will not be able to stay there forever. And right now, there is a food shortage. People said fighters burned food in storage in Tigray and destroyed seeds needed to plant new crops.

Abedom, a worker who gave only one name, said: "It was normal to go a whole day without food." He added, "if they take it all, how do I survive?"

Ethiopia's foreign ministry said in a statement last week that the government is shocked by the deaths of civilians. But it criticized "the rush to accuse the government" and called the former Tigray leaders and Tigray forces a "criminal enterprise that had been armed to its teeth."

I'm Dan Friedell. And I'm Mario Ritter.

Cara Anna of the Associated Press wrote this story. Dan Friedell adapted it for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.

What should outside countries do about the conflict in Ethiopia? Tell us in the Comments Section and visit 51VOA.COM.

Words in This Story

genocide - n. the deliberate killing of people who belong to a particular racial, political or cultural group

erase –v. to remove any thought or memory of (something)

region –n. a part of a country, of the world, etc., that is different or separate from other parts in some way

challenge –n. a difficult task or problem: something that is hard to do

ashamed –adj. feeling shame or guilt

armed to the teeth – idiom. a way of saying having a lot of weapons or military supplies

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