From ‘no dead’ to ‘genocide’: war in Tigray is big black hole

In the Ethiopian state of Tigray, a conflict has been raging since early November in which hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced. Its a war behind closed doors, because no one knows exactly whats happening in the area. There are credible accusations of looting and murders, of kidnapped refugees and of an invasion of the army from neighbouring Eritrea. Some even speak of a genocide.

Although there are overwhelming indications of a major humanitarian crisis, the Ethiopian government says that there have been no deaths and that there are no Eritrean soldiers in Tigray. The government locked the door, aid workers and journalists barely get in.

Anxious refugees
The

UN Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi knew that his visit to the region would become one of the most difficult in his career. Because how do you get the truth out of the table without kicking your hosts in the shins? On his visit this week, the Ethiopian government allowed him to travel only to one of the four major Eritrean refugee camps in Tigray.

Surrounded by Ethiopian officials, he had to find out from the backward frightened refugees whether the Eritrean army had invaded and abducted camp residents. Grandi abandoned his diplomatic pleasantries and came up with a hard statement afterwards.

โ€œ The situation in Tigray is very serious and very urgent,โ€ he said. And: โ€œMany refugees got stuck in the fighting and were forcibly sent back to Eritreaโ€. Thats unusual straight for a diplomat.

Massacre in a church

A few days later, the UN Security Council in New York decided to talk about Tigray behind closed doors. From that meeting leaked information that once again contradicts the official Ethiopian declaration of war. Mark Lowcock, Deputy Secretary-General of Humanitarian Affairs, said that โ€œthe government manages 60 to 80% of Tigray, but has no control over Eritrean soldiers and militias from the neighbouring state of Amharaโ€.

โ€œ Tigray is a big black hole for us,โ€ a diplomat recently told us. Journalists have the same dilemma. As early as November, we heard from civilians in Eritrea about troop movements to Tigray, we received reports from anonymous sources from Tigray about bombing.

And later on about mass killings, rapes and killing children. Eyewitnesses told us of a massacre in a church in the historic city of Axum, about shelling of a mosque, about Eritrean tanks loaded with looted goods.

Here lies the conflict zone:

The winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 that starts a war a year later: the contrast can hardly be bigger. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed says he had no choice but to act hard in Tigray.

Ethiopia has ten Lรคnder and soldiers of the Tigrean authorities opened the attack on the national army on 4 November. According to the Prime Minister, this was the beginning of the war. But the attack preceded a long power struggle between his government and the Tigrean rulers, who had been scepting across the country for over a quarter of a century.

A great controversy arose: who is most to blame for the transfer of power from the Tigreans to Abiy Ahmed with so many hate campaigns? And now that the controversy has degenerated into war, there is even a disagreement about what is going on in Tigray.

โ€œ A genocide,โ€ say the leaders of Tigray hunted to inhospitable burrows and caves. There has been a purge campaign of Tigreans at all levels in the Ethiopian state apparatus, the army, diplomacy, the national airline, the civil service.

There is also little doubt about the misconduct of Eritrean soldiers and the crimes committed by ethnic militias. But other than that, journalists and diplomats only have questions about the real picture of what is going on in Tigray.

โ€œ50,000 dead.โ€

Tigrean political parties independent of the expelled local authorities spoke this week of 50,000 deaths from the conflict. That, too, cannot be checked. What is undisputed is the consequences for the stability of Ethiopia and the wider Horn of Africa. The war in Tigray threatens to suck countries such as Sudan and Egypt into the conflict, whether directly or through support for minions.

In Ethiopia itself, ethnic disputes that have already aroused have become even more acute, because not only in Tigray, but also in the other Lรคnder, there are deaths caused by political violence. โ€œThis conflict causes scars that take years to heal,โ€ an independent Tigrean bitterly noted. All parties can probably agree on this.

A lot of people have been overTime on the run: