Armed forces from Ethiopia’s Amhara region have stepped up killings, mass detentions and expulsions of ethnic Tigrayans in neighbouring western Tigray, according to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Ethiopian government spokesman Legesse Tulu denied the charges, saying on Thursday that Tigrayan forces were to blame for any atrocities, even though there are no reports of Tigrayan forces in the area.
Western Tigray has seen some of the worst violence in the year-long conflict pitting the federal government and its allies from the Amhara region against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which used to rule Ethiopia.
Both Amhara and Tigray claim the fertile fields of western Tigray, which are now controlled by Amhara forces and the Ethiopian military.
The United Nations Office for Humanitarian Affairs has said that 1.2 million people have been forced out of western Tigray since the conflict began, including more than 10,000 forced out in the last week of November.
Amnesty and HRW said they interviewed dozens of people in western Tigray in November and December, who described a surge of abuses by Amhara security forces and militias.
“Tigrayan civilians attempting to escape the new wave of violence have been attacked and killed. Scores in detention face life-threatening conditions including torture, starvation, and denial of medical care,” the groups said in a joint statement.
They said Amhara regional police and volunteer civilian militia known as Fano were expelling Tigrayans from the towns of Adebai, Humera and Rawyan.
But on Thursday, Reuters reported Mr Legesse, the government spokesman, as saying any abuses were committed by Tigrayan forces.
“There is no Amhara security forces in western Tigray that are responsible for the accusations mentioned above,” he said.
The rights groups accuse all sides in the conflict of committing abuses. Days after war broke out in November 2020, mass killings were reported in western Tigray, including the Mai Kadra massacre, when Tigrayans killed hundreds of Amhara civilians, and then Tigrayans were killed in retaliation.
HRW said last week that Tigrayan forces had summarily executed dozens of civilians in two towns they controlled in the Amhara region between August 31 and September 9.
The UN Human Rights Council is to hold a session on Friday on possible war crimes committed in the conflict.