Weltspiegel program in Germany’s premier channel ARD Das Erste produced an 11-minute program rich in footages of destruction and suffering in Mekelle, Wukro, Adigrat and Aksum. In the footage is also Beriha Girmay whom we wrote about before. We present a translated summary of the program below.
The war in Tigray is over, says Ethiopia’s government. On a trip through the region, the Weltspiegel team experienced something different: Thousands dead, over 2 million people displaced, Eritrea’s army still present, rape is the order of the day – and people in the countryside suffering from hunger. The central regime in Addis Ababa continues its fight against the forcibly replaced political elite in Tigray. The Weltspiegel teams’ question about what the war is doing to the people in Tigray, posed to the Ethiopian spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ambassador Dina Mufti, was swiftly rejected with the rhetorical “What war? There is no massive military action, it’s just a targeted police intervention to bring only the absconded criminals to justice.” He continues on casually elaborating that what they are conducting in Tigray is called law enforcement and is very normal for any sovereign country. He explained that this law enforcement action is now complete and that they are in the next phase of rebuilding the region and the society including re-instilling confidence in the IDPs.
However what the team encounters on its further journey towards the East of Tigray paints a totally different picture. Armed forces with their allies from Eritrea mainly control the main traffic axes in the east and center of Tigray. As the team headed towards Adigrat along the recently reopened main road they passed through several checkpoints manned by Ethiopian and Eritrean troops. In the impassable areas beyond the roads, however, the fighting continues. Members of the Tigray Defense Forces (TDF) are fighting there against the Ethiopian and Eritrean troops and regional Amhara militia.
Along their journey from Adigrat to Axum the team heard several eyewitness testimonies of victims and survivors alike which also told a different story to the one being repeatedly offered by the Ethiopian regime. In the sacred Orthodox Christian town of Axum the team heard from an eyewitness to a massacre that took place several months earlier. He did not want to be identified for fear of repercussions but told the Weltspiegel team that hundreds of civilians were killed by Eritrean soldiers including his brother who he says was a civilian. The Ethiopian regime claims those killed were combatants. The team were shown the roughly built graves with blood soaked earth which was still fresh and only marked with numbers. He recounted how his murdered brother’s body was transported on an open carriage and on top of several piled up bodies. As he spoke he broke down and told the team that that the pain was so deep it is unforgettable. Axum: a town in deep mourning.
As the team drove on through Axum, the devastation of the war was visible: buildings with shattered windows, destroyed military tanks on the roadsides, burnt military vehicles and used artillery shells spread all over the ground. 60 km away from Axum the destruction of various infrastructure was still visible although there had not been any fighting there. In one factory a watchman explained to the team that Eritrean soldiers had taken over the 2 year old factory and proceeded to destroy the equipment leaving nothing intact. 800 workers have been left unemployed and destitute after 6 months. A little further on, the team witnessed more destruction caused by Eritrean soldiers, this time of farmland and crops. An elderly farmer told the team that the Eritreans had burnt the ready to harvest crops, burnt all farming equipment and are denying them access to their land by threatening them with death. Another farmer told the team what the Eritrean soldiers had said to them “we must use hunger as a weapon, it’s the only way to defeat them”. There were only a few humanitarian aid workers distributing food aid to the thousands in desperate need as one elderly woman told the team that she has absolutely nothing left, no home, no bed, no clothes, no food, no money, everything had been taken, looted by the invading soldiers. The Weltspiegel team concludes that hunger is evidently being used as a weapon.
Back in Mekelle, Weltspeigel visited a school building (Unity School) which had been converted into a mass shelter for over 4000 IDPs in Mekelle. All had fled here to survive but were now facing an entirely new struggle to survive as the conditions in these makeshift shelters are extremely challenging. Humanitarian aid agencies had very minimal presence. The team spoke to a couple of women who shared their harrowing accounts of their journeys to get to this place from their various war torn towns. The IDPs sheltered together in a very small crowded room, a difficult place to be for all but especially for women and children such as Hijab a newborn barely a day old – yet her fate as an IDP already determined.
The team also visited the university hospital where they encountered some of the worst atrocities and suffering. A father who had brought his 15 year old daughter had been shot in the face by soldiers, her wails of pain resounding throughout the hospital.
Finally the team spoke to a young female rape survivor who painfully relived her ordeal by sharing that when she asked her attacker why he was raping her he told her that it was in his orders to kill all Tigrayan males over the age of 7 and rape all Tigrayan females over the age of 8. He also explained that they had been ordered to make sure they impregnated the women so that they delivered Ethiopians and not Tigrayans.
The young rape survivor then determinedley tells the Weltspiegl team that once she recovers she will join the TDF fighters in the mountains so she can make sure that this doesn’t happen to her sister or any other young girl like her.