Ethiopian State Troops Kill Dozens of Civilians in Amhara Region

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Ethiopian government troops reportedly conducted a deadly operation in Merawi, Amhara region, resulting in civilian deaths.

Last month, residents reported that Ethiopian government troops conducted a door-to-door operation resulting in the deaths of dozens of civilians in a town within the Amhara region. The violence occurred following clashes with local militia.

The violence in Merawi seems to be among the most fatal incidents in Amhara since the outbreak of rebellion by Fano, an armed Amhara group, last year, triggered by a contentious proposal to disarm regional forces.

During the two-year civil war against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the Fano fought alongside Ethiopia’s federal military until its conclusion in November 2022. However, the government began to perceive groups like Fano and other regional forces as threats to its authority.

Ethiopia’s government has imposed a ban on journalists traveling to the increasingly lawless Amhara region and has cut off internet access. The Guardian conducted interviews with individuals in Merawi via phone. All interviewees requested anonymity due to fears of reprisal.

According to witnesses, the violence erupted on January 29 after hours of clashes between federal forces and Fano militiamen. When the militia withdrew, soldiers reportedly entered homes and targeted civilians, accusing them of being combatants.

One witness described spending the day in hiding at home amid constant gunfire echoing throughout the town. He recounted that artillery strikes hit civilian areas.

The following day, he ventured outside and discovered "at least 34 bodies" strewn across the streets, collected by locals. Some victims had suffered fatal gunshot wounds to the head, with their faces severely disfigured.

Another witness, an Orthodox priest who arrived in Merawi on January 30, reported seeing "around 50 bodies lying on the main road" of the city. Many victims appeared to have been executed, suffering gunshot wounds to their heads, the priest noted.

The priest revealed that his brother was among those killed during the violence. Soldiers shot him multiple times on his doorstep, stealing his money and phone in the process.

A third resident claimed to have knowledge of at least 45 fatalities, including his brother, whom he found with bullet wounds to his head. He described the violence unfolding over two days, with soldiers forcibly entering homes and breaking down doors.

The Ethiopian Human Rights Council, the country’s oldest civil society group, stated that the death toll exceeded 80 civilians. In a released statement on Tuesday, it urged further investigations without attributing responsibility for the killings but demanded the government to hold accountable those responsible.

Ervin Massinga, the US ambassador to Ethiopia, called for a comprehensive investigation, expressing deep concern over the reports.

On Friday, Ethiopia's parliament extended a state of emergency, initially introduced in August to suppress unrest. Daniel Bekele, head of the country’s state-appointed human rights body, expressed deep concern over the extension, highlighting increasing civilian casualties, pre-trial detentions, and humanitarian needs.

Daniel informed The Guardian that his organization had not yet concluded its investigation into the Merawi killings but had documented various abuses in Amhara since August. These included shelling of civilian areas, ethnically motivated arrests, and killings. In November, Human Rights Watch pointed out the authorities' use of repressive tactics to restrict access to real-time information and independent scrutiny.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed called on "extremists operating in the Amhara region" and rebels in the