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Ethiopia rejects allegations its forces massacred civilians as the West urges an investigation

Ethiopia rejects allegations its forces massacred civilians as the West urges an investigation
A militiaman near the village of Chenna Teklehaymanot, in the Amhara region   -  
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Stringer/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.


Ethiopia's government on Thursday dismissed allegations its soldiers massacred scores of civilians last month in the country's restive Amhara region as the West is demanding an investigation into the killings.

A rebellion broke out in Amhara — Ethiopia's second-biggest province — last year when the government moved to dissolve regional forces and absorb them into the federal army. Later, rebels captured several towns across the region before retreating to the countryside.

Rights monitors have documented a range of human rights abuses by government forces during the conflict, including alleged extra-judicial killings.

Ethiopia's state-appointed human rights commission says troops killed at least 45 civilians in the Amhara town of Merawi following clashes with a local militia in January. Another national rights body put the death toll at over 80. Both organizations said the killings included shootings that occurred during house-to-house searches.

Government spokesperson Legesse Tulu on Thursday told the local language service of German broadcaster Deutsche Welle that there was fighting in Merawi but insisted the military "did not target any civilians."

Legesse said soldiers entered civilian homes to conduct searches after the fighting and acted in "self-defense" when "they were fired upon again" by armed elements.

"Not only would civilians never be targeted, even surrendering combatants would not be killed," Legesse said.

On Wednesday, the United Kingdom urged a full investigation into events in Merawi, a day after the European Union called for a probe and dialogue to resolve the conflict in Amhara,

Authorities have cut the internet in Amhara and in some locations there is no phone service, making it difficult to verify events.

The Fano were allied with the Ethiopian federal military in the two-year-long war against the Tigray People's Liberation Front in the neighboring region of Tigray, but their relationship was uneasy. The two sides began fighting even before the Tigray conflict ended in November 2022 with a peace deal.

Amhara is now under a state of emergency that suspends civil liberties and gives extra powers to the security services.

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