ADDIS ABABA, Sept 8 (Reuters) - Rebellious forces from the Tigray region killed 120 civilians over two days in a village in Ethiopia's Amhara region, local officials told Reuters on Wednesday.
Pro-TPLF rebels walk in lines towards a field in Mekelle, the capital of Tigray region, Ethiopia, [File: Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP]
The killings in a village 10 km (six miles) from the town of Dabat took place on Sept. 1 and 2, said Sewnet Wubalem, the local administrator in Dabat, and Chalachew Dagnew, spokesperson of the nearby city of Gondar.
The Tigrayan forces later issued a statement rejecting what they called a "fabricated allegation" by the Amhara regional government and denying any involvement in the killing of civilians.
It is the first such report of Tigrayan forces killing a large number of civilians since they seized territory in Amhara. Tens of thousands of people have fled their homes in the region as the Tigrayan forces have advanced.
"So far we have recovered 120 bodies. They were all innocent farmers. But we think the number might be higher. There are people who are missing," Sewnet, the local administrator, told Reuters by phone.
Chalachew, the Gondar city spokesperson, said he had visited the burial area in the village and that children, women and elderly were among the dead.
He said the killings occurred during the Tigrayan forces' "short presence" in the area, and it was now under the control of the Ethiopian federal army.
Reuters was unable to independently verify the accounts.
In their statement, Tigrayan forces called for "an independent investigation into all atrocities" in the region.
Video interviews provided to Reuters by the Gondar city government indicated that villagers fought the Tigrayan forces.
An interview with a man in an old military uniform said the village had mobilised every able person to fight back against the Tigrayan forces when they heard they were approaching.
"We fought for five days and they retreated," said the man, who gave his name as Wubet Fekremariam. "When they retreated they killed our people that they found on their way."
Last month, Ethiopia's government urged citizens to join the fight against the Tigrayan forces. read more
War broke out 10 months ago between Ethiopia's federal troops and forces loyal to the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), which controls the Tigray region.
Since then, thousands have been killed and more than 2 million have fled their homes. Fighting spread in July from the Tigray region into the neighbouring regions of Amhara and Afar, also in the country's north.
Amid the conflict, relations between the ethnic Amharas and Tigrayans have deteriorated sharply.
During the war, regional forces and militiamen from the Amhara region have sought to settle a decades-old land dispute between the Amhara and Tigray regions. read more
Amhara forces have seized control of western parts of Tigray and driven tens of thousands of Tigrayans from their homes. Though the Tigrayan forces have seized back most of the Tigray region, they have not taken back the heavily militarized and contested area of western Tigray.
The U.S. government's humanitarian agency said last week Tigrayan forces had in recent weeks looted its warehouses in parts of Amhara. read more
Responding on Twitter to the agency's statement on looting, Getachew Reda, the Tigrayan forces' spokesperson, wrote: "While we cannot vouch for every unacceptable behaviour of off-grid fighters in such matters, we have evidence that such looting is mainly orchestrated by local individuals & groups."
The U.N. has said a de facto aid blockade on the Tigray region, where some 400,000 people are already suffering famine conditions, has worsened an already dire humanitarian crisis.
The Ethiopian government has repeatedly denied allegations by the U.N. and Western governments that it is deliberately impeding the delivery of lifesaving assistance. On Sunday, a U.N. convoy of trucks bearing food and other aid was permitted to enter Tigray for the first time since Aug. 20.
Reporting by Addis Ababa newsroom, Writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by Jon Boyle, Timothy Heritage and Gareth Jones
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