AL-FASHQA, Sudan (Reuters) – Civilians fleeing fighting in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region described bombing by government warplanes, shooting on the streets and killings by machete, as they joined thousands of refugees crossing into neighbouring Sudan.
Speaking to Reuters on Friday in the Sudanese border town of al-Fashqa, where more than 7,000 refugees have sought safety, witnesses gave first hand accounts of the escalating conflict in Tigray, where government forces are battling fighters loyal to rebellious local leaders.
Reuters spoke to a dozen refugees. Many of them described seeing dead bodies strewn alongside the roads as they fled under cover of darkness, fearing they would be found and killed.
“I saw the bodies of people who had been slain thrown in the streets. Others who were injured were dragged with a rope tied to a rickshaw. What happened is frightening and terrible, and the Tigrayans are being killed and chased down. Anything is looted, and our area was attacked with tanks,” said Araqi Naqashi, 48.
Refugees said they expected many more Ethiopians to join them in Sudan in the coming days.
Barhat, 52, said she fled from Moya Khadra after people from the Amhara region, which borders Tigray and whose rulers back Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, attacked them.
“They killed anyone who said they were Tigrayan. They stole our money, our cattle, and our crops from our homes and we ran with just the clothing on our backs,” she said.
Elias, a 48-year-old farmer from the same town, said he was horrified by what happened there: “I saw gunmen killing and slaughtering people in the streets… and I fled on foot until I got here two days ago.”
Local Sudanese residents said they could hear the Ethiopian government air strikes in Tigray until Tuesday. Witnesses said some of the refugees were injured and transferred to a local medical facility.
“The bombing has demolished buildings and killed people. I escaped, part running on foot and part in a car. I’m afraid. Civilians are being killed,” said Hayali Kassi, a 33-year-old driver from Humera, a town near Ethiopia’s borders with Sudan and Eritrea.
FIGHTS OVER FOOD
Abiy has said government warplanes were bombing military targets in Tigray, including arms depots and equipment controlled by the Tigrayan forces.
Kassi and four other refugees said they had seen Eritrean soldiers fighting alongside the Ethiopian army against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Reuters could not independently confirm this.
Tigray’s leader, Debretsion Gebremichael, said on Tuesday that Eritrea had sent troops across the border in support of Ethiopian government forces but provided no evidence.
Eritreans Foreign Minister Osman Saleh Mohammed denied this, telling Reuters: “We are not part of the conflict.” The Eritrean foreign ministry did not immediately respond to calls for further comment on the refugees’ claims.
Sudanese security sources told Reuters that some armed individuals in military uniform had crossed into Sudan from Ethiopia. Reuters could not determine which side they belonged to.
The border between Sudan’s al-Qadarif state and Ethiopia is rugged land 5 km east of the banks of the Tekeze River. The area lacks electricity and clean water.
Empty structures of cement dotted along the dirt roads and fields shelter families from the sweltering sun with up to 15 people sharing the confined space.
A Reuters witness said many of those who fled to al-Fashqa were women and children. People formed long lines for water and quarrels broke out over food provided by the Sudanese army.
“Hunger rules here, and international organizations have not yet provided assistance…large numbers flowed across the border over the last three days and their numbers are far bigger than the government had estimated,” said a local security official in al-Fashqa.
The U.N. refugee agency said on Friday that the fighting in Ethiopia had prompted more than 14,500 people to flee into Sudan so far.
(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz and El Tayeb Siddig; Writing by Nadine Awadalla; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Jon Boyle)