A leaked video of a horrific mass execution has drawn attention to a bloody crisis unfolding in Ethiopia, where a civil war over territory has erupted in recent months.

The video, believed to be captured in the country's north west region of Tigray, shows dozens of unarmed prisoners surrounded by heavily armed men with Ethiopian flags emblazoned on their shoulders.

The footage was obtained by a pro-Tigray media organisation based in the US, who said the leak was provided by a "soldier turned whistleblower" who is now in hiding.

CNN reported military experts confirmed the camouflage worn by the soldiers matched those used in the Ethiopian army.

"Why don't you get closer and film the execution," a soldier can be heard saying to the whistleblower in Amharic, the official language of the Ethiopian military, which differs from the Tigray dialect.

"Walk him down there and shoot him in the back of his head," another voice says over grainy vision of a men being marched to the edge of a cliff.

The footage then cuts to the aftermath, where soldiers are seen shooting into the bodies of the prisoners before flinging them off the cliff.

"I wish we could pour gas over them and burn them," another voice says off-camera.

"It would have been great if there was gas to burn these people," another soldier replies. "Burn their bodies like the Indians do."

34 men can be seen in the initial shots, but locals fear as many as 39 were killed.

39 men are believed dead, adding to the list of thousands estimated to have perished in the recent civil war.
39 men are believed dead, adding to the list of thousands estimated to have perished in the recent civil war.

 

A horrific frame shows a soldier shooting at the body of a prisoner.
A horrific frame shows a soldier shooting at the body of a prisoner.


Amnesty International and BBC Africa were able to locate the approximate location of the atrocity using geo-analysis software, confirming it indeed took place near the town of Mahibere Dego in the Tigray region.

Sources from the local village described the moment the military raided their village and rounded up prisoners.

A local named Dawit barely escaped by tumbling down a cliffside, breaking his leg in the process. But his brother wasn't so lucky.

Dawit fled to the northern city of Axum and saw the footage of his brother being rounded up played on the news.

"Since we didn't see his body with our own eyes and bury our brother ourselves, it's hard for us to believe he's dead. It feels like he's still alive, we can't accept his death," he told CNN. "We will always remember him."

The massacre caught on camera is just one of many reported attacks in recent months, but a recent communications blackout in Ethiopia has made it difficult to verify what exactly has happened and when.

Rough estimates have already placed the civilian death toll in the thousands since the conflict began in late November 2020.

It started when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took up arms against the Tigray region's ruling party, the Tigray People's Liberation Front for allegedly attacking a military base.

The embattled nation is now under the microscope with a number of humans rights violations and potential war crimes to answer to.

“Walk him down there and shoot him in the back of his head,” a voice says over grainy vision of a men being marched to the edge of a cliff.
“Walk him down there and shoot him in the back of his head,” a voice says over grainy vision of a men being marched to the edge of a cliff.

The Prime Minister was forced to respond to allegations last week after Doctors Without Borders reported witnessing four people being executed by soldiers and claimed it had its own marked vehicles attacked while travelling through the region.

The government has also faced scrutiny over the alleged involvement of troops from the neighbouring Eritrea in the conflict, with several claims from local rights groups being squashed by officials in both countries.

After months of denial, Abiy Ahmed admitted Eritrean troops had been allowed over the border and "did a lasting favour to our soldiers" but assured the whip would come down hard if any proof of human rights violations were to surface

"The government has demonstrated the will for investigations to take place to take stock of what has happened in Tigray and enable an accountability mechanism," said Billene Seyoum, Abiy's spokeswoman.

"(We will) commit to holding individuals, groups and entities accountable... any damage it did to our people was unacceptable."

Whistleblower: 'I'm so sorry, brother'

Tigrai Media House journalist Stalin Gebreselassie revealed the steps his organisation took to protect the identity of the whistleblower.

Gebreselassie said TMH gave the whistleblower money to leave Ethiopia and agreed to wait until he was safely out of the country before publishing the damning footage.

"I managed to talk to him only for three minutes. The words he uttered to me were: 'I'm so sorry brother ... I am really sorry for what I did in Tigray, the Tigrayan people don't deserve this,'" he said.

Originally published as Mass execution video leaked online



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