Reports have emerged today of a Massacre at the Mariam of Zion cathedral Aksum in Tigray- following weeks of attempts to suppress news and to prohibit independent access. In addition to Martin Plant’s report, below, there are reports of attacks on refugee camps and the enforced repatriation of Eritrean refugee to the Eritrean dictatorship. These events have been drawn to the attention of the Foreign Secretary and questions tabled in Parliament.
On Tuesday, 15th of December, Ethiopian federal troops and Amhara militia approached the Mariam of Zion cathedral church in the ancient Tigrayan city of Aksum. It is possible that they thought that Tigrayan troops were sheltering in the church – taking advantage of the ancient right of sanctuary. According to a number of sources the church was full, with some saying that up to 1,000 people were in the building or the compound surrounding it.
The advancing soldiers caused consternation: a chapel in the compound is believed by Ethiopians to house the biblical arkof the covenant. Only a guardian monk – appointed as its guardian – may see it. There was a huge commotion. Amhara soldiers are reported to have shouted that “the Arc belongs in Addis Ababa!” but this cannot be confirmed. Those inside the cathedral came out to try to defend the sacred object.
A confrontation ensued. Everyone in the compound was forced into the square outside the cathedral. As the crowd milled around, there was further shouting and the troops opened fire on the protesting crowd. As many as 750 people are reported to have been killed.
News of the massacre has only gradually reached the outside world. People walked over 200 kilometres to the regional capital, Mekelle, and from there the story gradually filtered out – despite the clamp-down on all media in Tigray.
News of the massacre follows confirmation by the Ethiopian authorities that one of the most sacred Islamic sites, the Nejashi Mosque in the town of Wukro, had been badly damaged in fighting. It was built in the 7th century by the companions of the Prophet Mohammad, some of whom are buried at the site. The Ethiopian government accepts the damage took place, and promises to restore the building, but say it was attacked after Tigrayan troops dug trenches around the mosque.
Attacks on Refugee Camps
It had by reported that recent satellite images show widespread and systematic burning at two refugee camps in Ethiopia.
Questions have been tabled to the U.K. Government today asking them to establish the facts and to take action:
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment it has made of reports of a massacre at the church of Mariam in Aksum
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what action it is taking to end the forced repatriation of refugees to Eritrea from refugee camps in the Ethiopian province of Tigray, what assessment it has made of reports of armed attacks on the refugee camps and of the humanitarian needs of the refugees in the camps.
DX OPEN NETWORK