Villagers flee the site of Ethiopia’s mass killings in the Stench of Death.
Bodies of rebel combatants litter the roads and fields leading to Chenna, a community in northern Ethiopia’s mountains where one of the country’s 10-month-old war’s most brutal occurrences occurred this month.
The government accused the rebels, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), of massacring as many as 200 civilians, including women and children, in Chenna last week. Medics estimated the death toll at 125, but warned AFP the number might rise.
The TPLF denied the accusations, accusing Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of employing “priests, women, and children” as cannon fodder in war.
Chenna is in Ethiopia’s Amhara region, south of Tigray, where combat between pro-government forces and the TPLF erupted last November.
Despite Abiy’s promises of a quick triumph, conflict has extended into the neighboring Amhara and Afar areas in recent months, displacing hundreds of thousands of people and killing an unknown number of civilians.
The violence in Chenna began in early September, and the community – a meandering collection of mud homes – is now mostly deserted, with the stink of death driving out its residents.
“We haven’t buried everyone yet. We’ve been burying those who have been slaughtered. On Tuesday, Amhara militia fighter Yalew Kasse told AFP, “We were doing that for four days straight.”
A recently excavated mass grave near the village’s Orthodox Christian church has been covered with stones and leaves, and militia members say more civilian graves can be found elsewhere, sometimes immediately outside their homes.
Yalew claimed, “They wiped out one entire family: a mother, a father, a four-year-old child, and a six-year-old girl.”
Most of the dead that have not been buried, according to Mebratu Adane, a spokesman for a local militia, are those of TPLF rebels.
He explained, “The locals couldn’t handle the scent of the bodies, so they fled.”
The AFP was unable to independently corroborate the number of deaths or determine whether any of the civilians killed in Chenna were combatants.
According to the United Nations, the violence in Amhara has heightened global concern over the war in northern Ethiopia, which has killed thousands of people and pushed hundreds of thousands into famine-like conditions.
UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet warned Monday that the widening war “risks spilling over to the whole Horn of Africa”.
“Despite the conflict’s shifting dynamics, one constant has remained: repeated and serious reports of suspected egregious violations. Brief News from Washington Newsday.