Dozens killed in market airstrike in Ethiopia, officials say

By Simon Marks and Abdi Latif Dahir

Dozens of people were killed after an airstrike hit a busy market in northern Ethiopia on Tuesday, according to a doctor and a U.N. official, as fighting renewed in the restive Tigray region and vote counting got underway after parliamentary elections.

At least 80 people were killed and 43 others wounded in Togoga town, roughly 15 miles northwest of the Tigray capital, Mekelle, according to an official government report shared by a U.N. official.

On Wednesday, the U.N. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, also said several ambulances operated by the Ethiopian Red Cross had been denied access to the scene of the bombing by troops in Mekelle. A spokeswoman for the International Committee for the Red Cross confirmed an “ongoing operation” at the scene of the bombing but declined to comment further.

A spokeswoman for Ethiopia’s prime minister referred questions to the military. A spokesman with Ethiopia’s military could not immediately be reached for comment.

Separately, a doctor working at the emergency ward at Ayder Hospital in Mekelle confirmed that 30 people had been confirmed dead as of Wednesday afternoon. At least eight injured people, including women and children, arrived at the hospital with orthopedic and burn wounds.

The doctor, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of retribution, said that the hospital had prepared at least 20 ambulances to depart for Togoga town, but that military officers stopped them from leaving the hospital compound.

“They are not allowed to leave the hospital,” the doctor said in a phone interview Wednesday. “The ambulances are ready, and we’re still negotiating.”

The airstrike hit a day after Africa’s second-most-populous nation went to the polls in an election beset by logistical challenges, opposition boycott, ethnic violence and the war in Tigray.

The elections, which were delayed last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, was seen as a crucial test for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, whose rise to power in 2018 was lauded both at home and abroad. Initially, Abiy freed journalists and political prisoners, promised to open up key sectors of the economy and made peace with longtime foe Eritrea — a move that led to his receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019.

But the war he ordered in Tigray in November tarnished Abiy’s reputation. The fighting in the northern region has killed thousands of people, displaced more than 2 million and pushed the region into the throes of famine — the worst in any country since a 2011 famine gripped neighboring Somalia, according to a senior U.N. official.

Government forces, along with allied Eritrean forces, have also been accused of ethnic violence, massacres and sexual assault in the ongoing conflict — accusations that could amount to war crimes. Abiy’s administration denies those accusations.

Last month, the United States announced visa restrictions on all people involved in the Tigray conflict — including current or former Ethiopian or Eritrean government officials, ethnic Amhara militias or Tigrayan rebels.

Ethiopia’s foreign ministry lashed out at the restrictions, saying it “will be forced to reassess its relations with the United States, which might have implications beyond our bilateral relationship.”

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