A drone strike in Ethiopia's Oriental Orthodox Christian-majority Tigray region killed 56 people and injured 30, including children, in a camp for displaced people, two aid workers told Reuters on Saturday, citing local authorities and eyewitness accounts.
Military spokesman Colonel Getnet Adane and government spokesman Legesse Tulu did not immediately respond to requests for comment and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's spokeswoman Billene Seyoum did not respond to a request for comment.
The government has previously denied targeting civilians in the 14-month conflict with Tigrayan forces.
The spokesman for the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) that has been fighting the central government, Getachew Reda, said in a tweet that:
"Another callous drone attack by Abiy Ahmed in an IDP (Internally Displaced People) camp in Dedebit has claimed the lives of 56 innocent civilians so far."
Another callous drone attack by #AbiyAhmed in an #IDP camp in #Dedebit has claimed the lives of 56 innocent civilians so far. The saddest part of the story is the victims are people displaced from #WesternTigray by the regime’s genocidal campaign. Double jeopardy at its worst!
— Getachew K Reda (@reda_getachew) January 8, 2022
The strike in the town of Dedebit, in the northwest of the region near the border with Eritrea, occurred late on Friday night, said the aid workers, who asked not to be named as they are not authorised to speak to the media.
Earlier on Friday, the government had freed several opposition leaders from prison and said it would begin dialogue with political opponents in order to foster reconciliation. read more
Both aid workers said the number of dead was confirmed by the local authorities. The aid workers sent Reuters pictures they said they had taken of the wounded in hospital, who included many children.
One of the aid workers, who visited Shire Suhul General Hospital where the injured were brought for treatment, said the camp hosts many old women and children.
"They told me the bombs came at midnight. It was completely dark and they couldn't escape," the aid worker said.
Ethiopian federal troops went to war with Tigrayan forces in November 2020 and have committed gross atrocities against the Oriental Orthodox population.
After Ethiopia’s embattled prime minister reversed a Tigrayan march on the capital that threatened to overthrow him, he credited the bravery of his troops.
“Ethiopia is proud of your unbelievable heroism,” the jubilant leader, Abiy Ahmed, told his troops on the battlefront at Kombolcha, on Dec. 6. “You were our confidence when we said Ethiopia would never lose.”
In reality, the reason for the reversal in Abiy’s fortunes was hovering in the skies above: a fleet of combat drones, recently acquired from allies in the Persian Gulf region and elsewhere who are determined to keep him in power.
Over the past four months, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Iran have quietly supplied Abiy with some of the latest armed drones, even as the United States and African governments were urging a cease-fire and peace talks, according to two Western diplomats who have been briefed on the crisis and spoke on condition of anonymity.
At least 400,000 people are living in famine-like conditions, according to the United Nations, putting another dark mark on Turkey's extensive human rights breaching record.