Caught within the crossfire, Ethiopian minority flees to Sudan

Dragged right into a battle not of their making, members of Ethiopia’s Qemant ethnic group say their solely selection was fleeing to Sudan – marking one other bleak flip in a widening battle.

“Houses were burned and people killed by machetes,” mentioned refugee Emebet Demoz, who, like 1000’s of others, ran from her village final month. “We couldn’t even take the bodies and bury them.”

Thousands have been killed since combating erupted in November in Ethiopia’s northernmost Tigray area, when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed despatched in troops to topple the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, the regional ruling social gathering, saying the move got here in response to TPLF assaults on military camps.

The violence has since sucked in different teams in bitter battles over land, and has unfold from Tigray into Ethiopia’s neighbouring Amhara area, homeland of each the Amhara folks and the ethnic minority Qemant.

Amhara fighters supported Abiy’s forces, in an try to settle a decades-long dispute over territory they declare was seized by the TPLF throughout its nearly three-decade rule earlier than Abiy took energy in 2018.

The Qemant have lengthy chafed below the cultural and financial affect of the dominant Amhara folks, and lately have known as for self-rule.

A 2017 referendum on the query of making a Qemant autonomous zone led to rancour, with the ensuing territorial dispute sparking more and more frequent clashes between the 2 teams.

“The Amhara fighters backed by the government wanted us off our land,” 20-year-old Emebet mentioned. “They are killing us because we’re an ethnic minority.”

‘Refused to take sides’

But Amhara regional spokesperson Gizachew Muluneh squarely denied that members of the Qemant ethnic group have been being focused.

Amhara leaders say the Qemant’s quest for self-rule has largely been stoked by Tigrayan rebels, who they allege are combating a proxy battle by backing the group.

Gizachew mentioned these described as refugees have been “pro-terrorist TPLF and they are created by TPLF for the purpose of distracting Ethiopia and Amhara”.

The United Nations estimates about 200,000 folks have been displaced from their houses in Amhara, the place the violence is driving a wedge deeper between the ethnic teams.

“The Amharas wanted us to pick their side in the conflict against the Tigrayans,” mentioned refugee Balata Goshi. “We refused to take sides, so they fought us.”

Clashes between the Amhara and Qemant pressured 1000’s to flee in April this yr, based on the UN’s humanitarian company.

Qemant campaigners say their historic homeland consists of villages bordering Sudan.

But that has additionally led to accusations the Qemant have obtained help from Sudan, which has territorial points with Ethiopia, principally in areas positioned near the Amhara area.

Relations between Khartoum and Addis Ababa have additionally soured over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile, which downstream Egypt and Sudan fear threatens the water they rely on.

For civilians comparable to Emebet caught within the center, the violence left her no choice however to depart.

She is a part of a stream of some 3,000 Qemant refugees who’ve crossed into Sudan in current weeks, Sudanese officers mentioned.

“We are expecting more Qemantis to arrive, as well other ethnicities,” mentioned Mohamed Abdelkareem, from Sudan’s refugee fee.

Sudan already hosts greater than 60,000 refugees from Ethiopia, based on the UN, placing heavy strain on a rustic already battling its personal acute financial disaster.

Emebet discovered shelter within the Sudanese border city of Basinga, cramped inside a college transformed right into a makeshift camp, now a short lived home for a thousand refugees.

There are primary meals provides however she is sleeping below plastic sheeting that gives little shelter from both sweltering warmth or heavy rains.

“We are safe here at least,” she mentioned.

A baby from the Qemant ethnic group gathers meals at a refugee camp in Sudan [Ashraf Shazly/AFP]

 ‘Can’t return’

Refugees mentioned they’re victims of long-running ethnic strife.

“Tensions had already been rising for years,” mentioned Aman Farada, a 26-year-old refugee from Ethiopia’s northern metropolis of Gondar. “Initially, it was inter-ethnic disputes, but now it’s the government fighting us.”

Kasaw Abayi mentioned the Amharas used the Tigray battle as “an excuse” to broaden their management over different land.

“They see the entire area as theirs, so they want neither us [Qemant] nor the Tigrayans there,” mentioned the 50-year-old builder.

Early within the combating, Abiy, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, declared victory after his forces seized Tigray’s regional capital Mekelle.

But in June, the TPLF recaptured a lot of Tigray, together with Mekelle, and pushed east and south into the Amhara and Afar areas.

The UN says the battle has pushed 400,000 folks into famine-like situations. Fighting continues.

Qemant refugees say they see little probability of returning to Ethiopia any time quickly.

“We can’t go back,” mentioned Emebet. “How can we return when this government is still in place?”

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