Survivors recount horrific details of Mai Kadra massacre

Witnesses and relatives of victims say the bloodletting in the small town in Ethiopia’s war-hit Tigray region went on unabated for almost 24 hours.

Source: Al Jazeera
Two men covering their noses near a ditch where more than 20 bodies lie, on the outskirts of Mai Kadra, November 21 [File: Eduardo Soteras/AFP]

With communications gradually being restored to parts of Ethiopia’s war-hit Tigray region, survivors and residents in the town of Mai Kadra have been able to share harrowing accounts of the slaughter of civilians more than a month ago, the worst confirmed atrocity in a weeks-long conflict between government forces and the now-fugitive regional government.

On November 12, nearly two weeks after the start of the fighting in the northern region, an Amnesty International investigation cited witnesses as saying that forces linked to the embattled Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) had gone on a rampage in the small town three days earlier.

Armed with weapons including machetes and knives, the attackers hacked and stabbed residents to death, the witnesses told Amnesty, which said it could confirm “the massacre of a very large number of civilians” after examining and verifying gruesome photographs and videos from the scene.

Days later, a preliminary investigation by a government-appointed rights watchdog stated that there may be as many as 600 victims, saying the killings were committed by a local youth group with the support of other Tigrayan civilians, police, and militia.

Source: Al Jazeera
The massacre in Mai Kadra is the worst known attack on civilians during the conflict [File: Eduardo Soteras/AFP]

Home to up to 45,000 people of Tigrayan, Amhara, and other ethnic origins, Mai Kadra had been under the control of the TPLF until its forces retreated from the town a day after the massacre as Ethiopian government troops made advances in western Tigray.

Despite the Ethiopian government’s capture of the Tigrayan capital of Mekelle on November 28, fighting between the TPLF and Ethiopian army units is believed to be continuing in parts of rural Tigray. Swaths of the region remain inaccessible to journalists and aid workers, making it hard to verify claims from all sides and leaving observers fearing that additional war crimes may yet be uncovered.

The federal government imposed a communications blackout when it began its military operation on November 4, but Mai Kadra has had its phone services restored for a little more than a week now. Al Jazeera has been able to communicate with a total of six survivors, witnesses, and relatives of victims who were in Mai Kadra on November 9 and said the bloodletting went on unabated for nearly 24 hours.

Source: Al Jazeera

‘I thought it was the end’

Solomon Chaklu said he had come to Mai Kadra from the town of Dansha to inspect a vehicle he had intended to buy.

“Police and TPLF youth militias went all over town searching for non-Tigrayans to kill,” Solomon told Al Jazeera on the phone. “At around 3 pm, police and the youths with machetes came to the home we were hiding in,” he said.

“They dragged me outside, where I saw maybe 20 or 30 bodies of people who lay dying or were dead. I thought it was the end for me.”

The Ethiopian government maintains that a TPLF-backed Tigrayan youth militia dubbed the “Samri” singled out men like Solomon and Ferede, who are of ethnic Amhara descent. There have been long-standing tensions between Tigrayans and Amhara and militia members from the Amhara region neighboring Tigray have taken part in fighting against the TPLF’s forces alongside the Ethiopian army.

Solomon said he, his friend Ferede Leu and a third man were asked to produce ID cards that would identify their ethnic group. The third man was left alone after he pleaded for his life in Tigrinya, the language of the assailants, according to Solomon.

“They tried to kill me,” he said. “I was surrounded by four men and one of them struck me in the head and back with his machete. I remember the others laughing as they watched him.”

When he regained consciousness, Solomon was informed that his friend, Ferede, had been hacked to death. He himself was bleeding profusely and the next day was taken to hospital in the city of Gonder some 260km (162 miles) away. Discharged after two weeks, he is currently recovering from multiple machete blows and a broken leg in his home in Dansha.

“Men turned into bloodthirsty beasts that day,” he said.

Source: Al Jazeera