Tigrayans accused of massacre in Ethiopia war, both sides claim advances

Tigrayans accused of massacre in Ethiopia war, both sides claim advances
In this file photo a member of the Amhara Special Forces watches on at the border crossing with Eritrea where an Imperial Ethiopian flag waves, in Humera, Ethiopia, on November 22, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 24 November 2020

Tigrayans accused of massacre in Ethiopia war, both sides claim advances

Tigrayans accused of massacre in Ethiopia war, both sides claim advances
  • PM Abiy’s troops fighting Tigrayan forces since Nov. 4
  • UN Security Council to hold informal talks on Ethiopia

ADDIS ABABA/NAIROBI: Ethiopia’s state-appointed rights watchdog accused a Tigrayan youth group on Tuesday of killing hundreds of civilians as federal and local forces both claimed advances in a three-week war in the country’s mountainous north.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government said enemy soldiers were surrendering as it advanced toward the regional capital, but the Tigrayans reported they were resisting and had destroyed a prestigious army division.
The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission published findings into a Nov. 9 attack in Mai Kadra in southwest Tigray — first reported by Amnesty International — where it said a youth group called Samri killed an estimated 600 civilians, mainly of Amharic descent.
They were beaten to death, stabbed, set on fire and strangled with ropes, the report said, though some residents protected neighbors by hiding them in homes. The commission accused local forces of colluding in the “massacre.”
The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) was not immediately available but has previously denied involvement.
Reuters has been unable to verify statements made by either side since phone and Internet connections to Tigray are down and access to the area is strictly controlled.
Since fighting began on Nov. 4, hundreds have been killed, more than 41,000 refugees have fled to Sudan, and there has been widespread destruction and uprooting of people from homes.
The war has spread to Eritrea, where the Tigrayans have fired rockets, and also affected Somalia where Ethiopia has disarmed several hundred Tigrayans in a peacekeeping force fighting Al-Qaeda-linked militants.
The government said the peacekeepers were being investigated for links to the TPLF.
Abiy’s government said many Tigrayan combatants had responded to a 72-hour ultimatum to lay down arms before a threatened offensive against Mekelle city, with half a million inhabitants. The deadline expires on Wednesday.

’TRAGIC CONFLICT’
The battle-hardened TPLF, which had ruled the region of more than 5 million people, gave a different version, saying their troops were keeping federal forces at bay and scoring victories.
Their spokesman Getachew Reda said an important army unit — which he named as the 21st mechanized division — was destroyed in an assault at Raya-Wajirat led by a former commander of that unit now fighting for the TPLF.
The prime minister’s spokeswoman Billene Seyoum denied that.
TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael has disputed the government version that Mekelle is encircled at a roughly 50km (30 mile) distance, telling Reuters the ultimatum was a cover for government forces to regroup after defeats.
The United States — which regards Ethiopia as a powerful ally in a turbulent region — France and Britain were the latest foreign powers to call for peace. Washington backed African Union (AU) mediation efforts “to end this tragic conflict now,” while Paris and London warned against ethnic discrimination.
The situation in Ethiopia was raised behind closed-doors in the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday by Britain and other European countries on the 15-member body, diplomats said.
Members of the council expressed concern, diplomats said, but South Africa, Niger and Tunisia appealed for more time for regional efforts to address the situation before the Security Council considers any action.
“The UN Security Council should do everything in its power to avert a human rights and humanitarian disaster in Ethiopia,” Louis Charbonneau, UN Director for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

OFFENSIVE
Abiy, who won the Nobel Peace Prize last year for ending a standoff with Eritrea, has said he will not negotiate with the TPLF though he does plan to receive AU envoys who are expected to visit.
His predecessor, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, criticized mediation efforts by “well-intentioned outsiders” that he said obscured crimes by the TPLF and overestimated their importance in Ethiopian society.
“The key problem in the international community’s approach to Ethiopia is the assumption of moral equivalence, which leads foreign governments to adopt an attitude of false balance and bothsidesism” between the federal and Tigrayan sides, he wrote in Foreign Policy magazine.
Abiy, whose parents are from the larger Oromo and Amhara groups, denies any ethnic overtones to his offensive, saying he is pursuing criminals who ambushed federal forces.
The TPLF says he wants to subdue Tigray to amass power.
Since taking office in 2018, the prime minister has removed many Tigrayans from government and security posts and arrested some on rights abuse and corruption charges, even though he was their former military comrade and coalition partner.
The conflict threatens to destabilize the vast nation of 115 million people from myriad ethnic groups whose struggles for greater resources and power intensified when Abiy took office.
In Geneva, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet voiced alarm over reports of tank and artillery build-ups outside Mekelle and “extremely worrying” rhetoric that “may provoke or may lead to serious violations of international humanitarian law.”


Kremlin says would welcome Biden’s efforts to extend New START arms control treaty

Kremlin says would welcome Biden’s efforts to extend New START arms control treaty
Updated 47 min 23 sec ago

Kremlin says would welcome Biden’s efforts to extend New START arms control treaty

Kremlin says would welcome Biden’s efforts to extend New START arms control treaty
  • The New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) accord limits the numbers of strategic nuclear warheads
  • A failure to extend New START could fuel a potential arms race and tensions between Moscow and Washington

MOSCOW: The Kremlin said on Wednesday it remained committed to extending the New START nuclear arms control treaty with the United States and would welcome efforts promised by the administration of US President-elect Joe Biden to reach agreement.
The New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) accord, which was signed in 2010 and expires in February, limits the numbers of strategic nuclear warheads, missiles and bombers that Russia and the United States can deploy.
“Russia and its president are in favor of preserving this agreement,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call. “If our American colleagues will in fact demonstrate a political will to preserve this pact by extending it, this can only be welcomed.”
Biden’s choice for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said on Tuesday that the incoming US administration would seek to extend the pact and decide how long an extension to pursue.
Russian President Vladimir Putin last year called on Washington to extend the last major nuclear arms pact between the two countries for a year without any conditions.
A failure to extend New START could fuel a potential arms race and tensions between Moscow and Washington.