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Ethiopians describe hunger and rape in Amhara



The pictures on her phone are all that Ethiopian mother Habtam Akele has left of her three-year-old daughter Saba

Three-year-old Saba died from malnutrition in Ethiopia’s Amhara last month. Conflict in neighboring Amhara has spread to the region, forcing thousands to flee their homes – carrying with them stories of hunger and brutality. David Doyle has more.

Saba was just three years old when she died of malnutrition.

That was last month, as her mother tried to flee violence that has spread from Ethiopia’s Tigray into neighboring Amhara.

Pictures on her phone are all Habtam Akele has left of her daughter, having pleaded with doctors to save her child.

“They told me she was severely affected by malnutrition and they could not help. Then they gave me some syrup and tablets. She passed away exactly a week later on a Sunday.”

Saba is just one victim of the hunger and violence that has swept through northern Ethiopia since war broke out between the federal military and forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front nearly a year ago.

In July, having taken back much of Tigray, the TPLF pushed into Amhara – whose forces have been fighting alongside federal troops

The Tigrayan advance sent around 250,000 people fleeing their homes, the United Nations says.

Habtam is among thousands who arrived in the town of Dessie, escaping bloodshed further north.

She says there was little food in areas under Tigrayan control and that Tigrayan forces took scarce medicine from local pharmacies.

Getachew Reda, spokesperson for the TPLF, denied Tigrayan forces had looted local pharmacies.

He said they’d set up a generator to alleviate water shortages in Habtam’s area.

Reuters was not able to independently verify Habtam’s account as her home is in an area off-limits to journalists and phone connections are down.

But people don’t just have hunger to fear.

At a camp in Dessie, Saada says she was raped.

That attack was carried out at her home by an armed man in plain clothes speaking the Tigrayan language, she says, in an area under Tigrayan control.

“After, he yelled at me ‘get dressed now!’. I was so afraid at this point that I was going to lose my life and quickly said ok. Then he grabbed his gun and left my house as I was getting dressed.”

She provided as evidence a card showing she had visited a hospital in Dessie for treatment.

When asked about the rape, the TPLF’s Getachew said any reported incident would be investigated and that the actions of one man should not implicate the Tigrayan forces in general.

Both sides in the conflict have accused the other of committing atrocities and each side denies allegations against them.

The TPLF says the Ethiopian military recently launched an offensive to dislodge the Tigrayans from Amhara.

The military and government have not answered calls seeking information.

But diplomats are worried the renewed fighting will further destabilize Ethiopia – and for Tigray and its surrounding areas, deepen the crisis of hunger and violence.

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