THE Archbishop of Cape Town, Dr Thabo Makgoba, has urged African states to act together to prevent a Rwandan-style genocide in Ethiopia as the conflict between the federal government and the Tigrayan people continues.
There has been a shutdown of communications in Tigray since national troops were first sent in last November, but there are reports of widespread attacks on civilians by all sides.
Thousands are said to have died since the civil war began. Dr Makgoba said in a statement released on Tuesday: “Human Rights Watch has accused federal troops of indiscriminate shelling of urban areas, striking homes, hospitals, schools, and markets, killing at least 83 civilians, including children, and wounding over 300.
“The level of ethnic hatred which has emerged on social media around this conflict is deeply disturbing.
“A quarter of a century ago, the genocide in Rwanda occurred under our noses, with the world failing to stop it. What is happening in Tigray must not be allowed to deteriorate even further.”
Earlier this month, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, said that about 20,000 refugees were missing in Tigray (News, 5 February); and the Red Cross has warned that the humanitarian needs of the millions displaced by the fighting are “overwhelming”.
Further evidence of a massacre of hundreds of civilians inside St Mary of Zion, in Aksum, Ethiopia, has also emerged, from a deacon who told the AP news agency that he witnessed the atrocity.
The attack on the church complex, which reputedly houses the Ark of the Covenant, is believed to have taken place in November, at the height of the fighting, but journalists are barred from the region, and communication networks have been shut down (News, 15 January).
The conflict began last summer, when the regional authorities in Tigray, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), held elections in defiance of a federal order to postpone them during the coronavirus pandemic.
In November, TPLF forces seized federal army bases in Tigray — actions that they said were pre-emptive — and, in response, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed, ordered government troops in to overthrow the TLPF regime.
Although Addis Ababa has claimed victory after taking the Tigrayan capital, Mekelle, fighting between Ethiopian soldiers, TPLF forces, and troops from neighbouring Eritrea — which has intervened in support of Mr Ahmed — has continued.
The Finnish Foreign Minister, Pekka Haavisto, who recently returned from an EU mission to Ethiopia, told journalists at a press conference on Tuesday that the situation in Tigray was “uncontrollable militarily, humanely, and on a humanitarian level”.
Dr Makgoba has called on faith groups and civil society in South Africa to demand that their government “step in to avert a humanitarian catastrophe”, and to urge the African Union to act.
Foreign troops should leave, journalists should be allowed into Tigray, and access should be granted for emergency aid, Dr Makgoba said. “Pray for justice and peace for the people of Tigray and all of Ethiopia.”