Fighting in northern Ethiopia’s Afar region has “en-gulfed” a camp housing refugees from neighbouring Eritrea, the UN said Friday, killing five people and forcing thousands to flee.
The attack earlier this month is the latest blow to the more than 100,000 Eritrean refugees living in Ethiopia, whose camps have been repeatedly caught up in a grinding 15-month war.
It also underscores the growing toll of fighting in Afar, which has emerged in recent weeks as the most active front in the conflict pitting Prime Minis-ter Abiy Ahmed’s government against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) rebel group.
Survivors of the Bahrale camp attack in Afar re-ported that “at least five refugees were killed and several women were kidnapped” after armed men entered on February 3, the UN refugee agency said in a statement.
“Family members lost one another in the chaos of fleeing the camp,” the statement said. The Barahle camp is situated near the border between Afar and Tigray, the home region of the rebels. The TPLF controls most of Tigray and in Janu-ary announced it had expanded operations into Afar, claiming it had been provoked by attacks on its positions by pro-government forces.
Friday’s UN statement did not specify which forces the survivors had accused of targeting the camp.
However AFP interviewed several survivors this week in the Afar capital Semera who said they be-lieved the TPLF was responsible.
“I had never seen anything like that,” refugee Mahamooda Ahmed said, recalling what he de-scribed as an assault on civilians, with no pro-government combatants in the area.
“I had never seen soldiers open fire on civilians. There were no soldiers for them to fight. It was civilians, including women and children. And they were using very heavy weapons.”
He said two of his seven children — a six-year-old boy and a four-year-old girl — are unaccounted for, along with one of his two wives.
Afar regional government officials as well as the national Refugees and Returnees Service also said the TPLF was to blame.
But a TPLF spokesman said government offi-cials were “full of lies” and that Eritrean refugees “were not attacked”.
“Our forces only targeted armed troublemakers from the Afar government and Eritrean mercenar-ies,” Kindeya Gebrehiwot said. The camp remains inaccessible and these claims could not be inde-pendently verified.—AFP