Now a massive humanitarian crisis that already affects millions inside Tigray is spreading as hundreds of thousands of people flee the Tigray fighters, fearing their retaliatory attacks. The Tigray forces have said they are not attacking civilians.
But grieving witnesses and survivors in Chenna Teklehaymanot said the Tigray forces arrived demanding food, then killed people who tried to resist when the fighters killed their animals or looted their properties.
“Many of the innocent civilians here have lost their lives,” said local priest Yared Adamu. Holding a cross, he walked inside the damaged church, where bullet casings were scattered on the ground.
Spokesman for the Tigray forces Getachew Reda, speaking with the AP on Friday, called allegations that Tigray fighters had targeted civilians in the village “absolutely, absolutely false”. He accused Amhara regional special forces of forcing civilians to fight, and “of course they will be caught in the crossfire”.
Told that residents had not reported being forced to fight, Getachew replied, “Whatever they told you was staged drama”. He also denied allegations that the Tigray forces were retreating.
Ethiopia’s widening war, with atrocities reported on all sides, has led to urgent calls by the United Nations, United States and others for an immediate cease-fire and a path to dialogue. But there is little peace in sight.
Ethiopia’s government this year declared the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which long dominated the national government before Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took office, a terrorist group. That designation can’t be lifted until a new federal government is formed, likely in early October, his spokeswoman told reporters on Thursday.
What began as a political dispute has killed thousands since November. Now in the Amhara region, as in Tigray, some outraged civilians have joined the fight.
Resident Kibret Bidere described himself as a member of the Amhara militia called the Fano. He told the AP his sister and her 1-year-old son had been killed, and his father was missing.
“Even today we are looking for the lost ones from morning to evening, but we haven’t found any,” he said, nursing an injured arm from previous fighting.
The village’s traditional homes of grass and mud were emptying as residents departed through the mist, searching for safety elsewhere. Many had bundles on their backs. One, a gun propped on his shoulder.
“Our home was attacked by heavy artillery,” said Senait Ambaw, who was leaving with her husband, clutching a chicken. “All the people of Chenna have no home now. It’s over.”
In the nearby town of Dabat, Amhara militia riding by on a truck fired their guns skyward in victory. Children ran after them, collecting the bullet casings from the ground.
Journalist’s name withheld for their safety