Over the past week, local authorities in Sudan’s Kassala Province have found around 50 bodies floating in the Tekeze River, which runs between Ethiopia’s Tigray region and Sudan, a Sudanese official says.
Speaking to the Associated Press on Monday, the official, who spoke anonymously, said some of the bodies had been found with gunshot wounds or their hands tied, but added that a forensic investigation was needed to determine the causes of death.
Tekeze River flows through some of the most troubled areas of the restive Tigray region, where local Tigrayans have been cut off from the world since an armed conflict erupted between Ethiopian troops and local rebels there last year.
Tewodros Tefera, a surgeon who escaped the nearby Tigray city of Humera to Sudan, said the bodies had been found in the lower reaches of Humera City, where authorities and allied fighters from Ethiopia’s Amhara region have been accused of expelling ethnic Tigrayans from their land during the war.
“They were shot in their chest, abdomen, legs, while they had their hands tied,” Tewodros said. “We are actually taking care of the bodies spotted by fishermen. I suspect there are more bodies on the river.”
Another doctor working in the Sudan border community of Hamdayet, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, described the presumed physical abuses whose signs were visible on the bodies as “barbaric.” He added that “some had been struck by an axe.”
Witnesses at the river said they had not been able to catch all the bodies floating downstream because of the water’s high speed.
Meanwhile, a Twitter account set up by the Ethiopian government called the accounts parts of a fake campaign by “propagandists” among the Tigray forces.
Fighting erupted in Tigray in November last year when the federal government accused the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) of attacking military bases across the north. Three weeks later, the government declared victory when it gained control of Mekelle. However, the TPLF forces resumed fighting later and retook Mekelle and most of Tigray at the end of June after the government withdrew its soldiers and declared a ceasefire.
The conflict has sparked international criticism of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and concern for the stability of Africa’s second-most populous country.
The Tigray conflict has forced nearly two million people to flee their homes and forced more than 400 thousand people into famine conditions. Many have fled into neighboring Sudan.