Refugees and a local doctor said two more bodies were found floating above the river that separates Ethiopia’s restive Tigray region from Sudan. They urged the Sudanese authorities and the United Nations to assist in the search effort.
About 50 bodies have been discovered over the past two weeks in the Setit River, which flows through some of the most volatile areas of the nine-month conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, refugees from Tigray have reported.
Doctor Tedros Tefera said Friday that he has personally witnessed refugees pulling several bodies out of the river over the past week. Tefera is a surgeon from the neighboring town of Hamira Tigray who fled to Sudan at the start of the war.
The Ethiopians of Tigray people accused the Ethiopian and allied forces of committing atrocities while fighting the Tigrayan forces. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken confirmed in March that “ethnic cleansing” had occurred in parts of Tigray.
The latest discovery has raised fears that more bodies may be dumped at Setit, known in Ethiopia as Tekeze. The refugees say the bodies found in recent days are swollen and stripped of colour. They say some have been disfigured, including severed genitals, severed eyes and missing limbs. Others were found with their hands tied or shot.
The two bodies, like the previous two, were buried in two graves dug by the refugees in the village of Wad Al-Hilu on the Sudanese side of the river. This is according to the Tigrayan Association, a newly created group of Tigrayan refugees in Sudan’s Kassala state, which helps other refugees who have fled conflict into Sudan. The group also helped find and bury the bodies.
Since the outbreak of the Tigray War in November, more than 60,000 Tigrayans have fled to Sudan, where thousands remain in makeshift camps a short distance from the river hoping to hear news from the new arrivals.
Tefera said the group contacted Sudanese authorities in the area and other aid groups, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, to help with search efforts along the river and to identify the bodies and the causes of their deaths.
A senior Sudanese official said the army, in cooperation with the local community, would begin research missions, possibly next week. The official said he believed more bodies could be found in the river. He did not provide additional details and spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue and the tense relations between Sudan and Ethiopia.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, visited the village earlier this week and confirmed seeing one of the bodies recovered from the river along with “what appear to be several new graves”. She was unable to confirm the identity of the dead or how they died.
The refugees believe the bodies were from the Tigray tribe, which were dumped into the Hamira river, which has seen some of the worst violence since the war began in November.
Doctors who saw the bodies recovered from the river said one was tattooed with a common name in the Tigrayan language, while others had facial markings common among Tigrayans, raising new concerns about atrocities in the lesser known region of the Tigray War.
The Ethiopian government accused rival Tigrayan forces of dumping the bodies themselves for propaganda purposes. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s spokeswoman, Beilin Seyoum, told reporters on Thursday it was a “fake massacre”.
The discovery of the bodies added international pressure on the government of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ahmed. It faces accusations from the United Nations, the United States and the European Union of besieging Tigray and preventing food and other aid from reaching millions of people.
Hundreds of thousands face famine conditions in one of the world’s worst hunger crises in a decade, with the war spilling over into other regions of Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous country and an often volatile Horn of Africa anchorage.
Narrated by Magdy from Cairo.