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News: Residents in Merawi town, Amhara region in shock a week after at least 50 people killed in ‘execution-style’

Residents of Merawi town, situated in the North Gojjam zone of the Amhara region, continued to grapple with anxiety one week following the alleged killing of at least 50 individuals by government forces (Photo: Social Media)

Addis Abeba – Residents in Merawi town in the North Gojjam zone of the restive Amhara region remain in a state of anxiety a week after at least 50 people were allegedly killed by government forces in what residents described as “execution.”

The unprecedented incident occurred in the aftermath of six hours of intense fighting between the non-state militia, Fano and the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) on Monday, January 29, 2024.

Three residents speaking to Addis Standard on conditions of anonymity described the disturbing turn of events that stunned a town situated 35 kilometers from the regional capital, Bahir Dar.

According to the informants, heavy fighting between the two groups started shortly after dawn and lasted until midday, after which the Fano evacuated the town, leading to the military assuming total control over the urban area.

Members of the army then started conducting door-to-door searches, questioning residents about the whereabouts of their youngsters and accusing them of harboring Fano fighters during the night, followed by the “executions,” one informant said.

There have been death reports daily since then in the town. I have never seen such a thing; I am still afraid to go out

A resident

More than 100 civilians, including children and women, were shot dead throughout the day, the resident said, adding that the victims’ ages ranged from 14 to 96.

Some 50 dead bodies were buried at Merawi St. Mary Church, whereas other victims were laid to rest in various churches across the town, the informant disclosed.

“There have been death reports daily since then in the town. I have never seen such a thing; I am still afraid to go out,” said the resident.

The gravity of the incident is underscored by the account of the second informant, who, returning to Merawi, encountered the grim sight of more than 50 lifeless bodies strewn across the town’s streets

Recounting a personal tragedy, the resident lamented the loss of a brother with no political affiliations who was “ruthlessly killed” by the army for inexplicable reasons.

“My brother was killed on Monday. I was out of town, and when I returned home on Tuesday, there were several dead bodies laid on the street,” he said. He was later bereaved by his younger brother’s brutal murder.

The informants revealed that heavy fatalities took place in the town’s 02 Kebele, where soldiers confiscated belongings, including money and mobile phones, from civilians before shooting them at a point blank range.

On Friday, the BBC’s Amharic service reported the killing of at least 50 civilians. The report quoted an eyewitness who said 13 people were executed in front of his eyes on the town’s main street. A local health worker interviewed by the BBC put the death toll at 85. 

The regional office of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said that it is conducting an investigation after receiving information indicating the killing.

Residents of Marawi who spoke to Addis Standard on Monday, a week after the incident, conveyed that, under the army’s stringent control, the town remained gripped by fear.

Government services such as the municipality, police, and courthouses have been non-functional. While limited banking services are available, withdrawals are restricted to a mere 1,000 birr, the informants said.

They allege the persistent arbitrary detention of hundreds of locals at a makeshift prison in a place known as China Camp, on the outskirts of the town. The residents expressed profound concern over the continued disruption of essential services and urged protection for civilians.

The incident took place days before the House of Peoples Representatives prolonged the six-month state of emergency initially declared in August 2023, following the escalation of militarized conflict in the region.

Neither the command post overseeing the state of emergency nor the army issued a statement surrounding the latest incident in Marawi town.

Marked by killings of civilians

Amhara region has been the epicenter of a deadly militarized conflict involving government forces armed groups that swept large parts of the regional state over the last six months.

Since the outbreak of the conflict, multiple incidents were recorded showing the involvement of government forces in the killing of civilians.

As early as August 2023, air strikes and shellings in various areas, including Debre Birhan, Finote Selam, and Burie, resulting in civilian casualties and damage to residential areas and public spaces were documented by Ethiopian Human Rights Commission. In Bahir Dar, civilians have been killed on the streets or outside their homes, and some individuals have been specifically targeted for searches, beatings, and killings. Gonder has also witnessed civilian casualties and property damage, with reports of extrajudicial killings by security forces in Shewa Robit. However, the Commission said further investigation and verification of these reports are necessary, the Commission’s report said.

In November last year, drone strikes by government forces have resulted in the deaths of at least 20 civilians. The UN said the attacks targeted a school and a bus station.

Similar investigations reveal that some of the deadliest incidents occurred in early November. On 09 November, another drone strike hit a bus station in the town of Waber, claiming the lives of 13 civilians who were waiting to depart. In the vicinity, Fano militiamen were reportedly carrying out attacks on nearby ENDF encampments.

The next month in December, multiple districts in Amhara region were struck by renewed heavy artillery shelling and drone strike, resulting in yet another tragic loss of civilian lives and the destruction of vital infrastructures. Witnesses speaking to Addis Standard reported that the indiscriminate attacks caused widespread devastation to homes and infrastructure in the region.

In early January this year, dozens of civilians were once again killed in clashes in Jille Dhummuga district of Oromo Special Zone, in Amhara region, which involved local armed forces and local civilians.

Last week, lawmakers voted to place the regional state under a government imposed state of emergency for additional four months after the initial six months emergency rule ended. AS

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