Western Ethiopia 'massacre' death toll rises to 222, says Red Cross

Murderous attack took place on Wednesday in Benishangul-Gumuz region of conflict-riven country

EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / -- AFP PICTURES OF THE YEAR 2020 --

This photograph taken on November 21, 2020 shows a man reacting as he stands near a ditch in the outskirts of Mai Kadra, Ethiopia, that is filled with more than 20 bodies of victims that were allegedly killed in a massacre on November 9, 2020. A local youth group aided by police and militia killed at least 600 people in a "rampage" during the first week of fighting in Ethiopia's northern Tigray region, the national rights watchdog said on November 24, 2020.
The massacre in the town of Mai-Kadra is the worst-known attack on civilians during Ethiopia's ongoing internal conflict pitting federal forces against leaders of Tigray's ruling party, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF).
Some Tigrayan refugees from Mai-Kadra who have fled across the border to Sudan blame government forces for killings there.
Amnesty International previously reported that "scores, and likely hundreds, of people were stabbed or hacked to death" in the November 9 attack in Mai-Kadra.
But November 24, 2020's report from the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) provides a more detailed account, accusing the Tigrayan youth group known as "Samri" of targeting non-Tigrayan seasonal labourers working on sesame and sorghum farms in the area.
The EHRC is a government-affiliated but independent body whose chief commissioner, Daniel Bekele, was appointed by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. - 
 / AFP / EDUARDO SOTERAS

The death toll from a Wednesday attack in the western Benishangul-Gumuz region of Ethiopia has risen to 222 people, a volunteer from the country's Red Cross told Reuters on Friday.

"Yesterday we buried 207 people who are the victims and 15 more from the attackers," said Melese Mesfin.

The attack occurred in the village of Bekoji in Bulen county in the Metekel zone, and the state-appointed Ethiopian Human Rights Commission initially estimated more than 100 people had been killed.

More than 40,000 people fled their homes due to the fighting, Bulen county spokesman Kassahun Addisu said. He reported the county had buried 207 people.

Wednesday's attack by unidentified gunmen was the latest deadly assault in an area beset by ethnic violence.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed called the attack a "massacre" and deployed federal troops there the next day. The military killed 42 armed men accused of attacking the village.

Ethiopia has been grappling with outbreaks of deadly violence since Mr Abiy was appointed in 2018 and accelerated political reforms that loosened the state's iron grip on regional rivalries.

The Tigray region of the country has been the centre of the tumult. This video explains the conflict's background.

Elections due next June have further inflamed rivalries over land, power and resources.

An all-out civil war in Ethiopia would risk a repeat of the East Africa refugee crisis of the 1970s and 1980s, when hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians fled war to take refuge in neighbouring countries, particularly Sudan.

Chaos could also revive old territorial disputes in the Horn of Africa and threaten to drag other nations into further conflicts.

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