Nearly a week of fighting in the flashpoint western Ethiopian town of Mekelle has left at least 14 dead and around 30,000 residents displaced, the US-based FMS organisation said.
A man was killed after a shell hit a neighbourhood on Tuesday, and 13 people, including women and children, were killed on Monday by what witnesses said was a drone strike, the group said.
The Ethiopian government has previously blamed the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) rebels for the violence in the town.
The body of a man found with bullet holes in his back on the outskirts of Mekelle. Photograph: Geza Markham/Monitor for Human Rights
The EPRDF, which has ruled Ethiopia since 1991, and Mekelle have been at war since 1976, with the rebels controlling the south and the state-run railways, a key transport hub for the nearby city of Gondar. The border between the two was split last month by a military convoy in a bid to open the way for a handover of the town to the rebels.
Since the war resumed on 18 April, about 20 shells have landed in Gondar and the neighbouring towns of Wadio and Galemberding, according to OCHA, the UN’s humanitarian wing.
“Priority now is to prevent further attacks on Galemberding and Wadio towns, which they targeted at midnight on Monday. Those villages still have young families and children, and the loss of life would be catastrophic,” OCHA said.
For three days the residents have been trapped inside Mekelle, and will have to find new places to stay, the EPRDF warned on its website. “At least 6,500 people, all of them civilians, are besieged in Mekelle and there is no sign of an immediate solution,” it said.
The EPRDF has closed public and private social services, and has banned all social media in the town, it said.
Journalists in Gondar said on Tuesday that a night-time curfew had been imposed in the town and most shops were closed.
“Security forces are conducting raids in neighbourhoods including Mariwa, Adinqo, Adi Jemalie and Njiajes. Some residents have also left to Adi Jemalie,” an official with the city council, Girma Nsengiyumva, told Reuters on Tuesday.
Girma said police had also begun “random arrests of people in the town, as well as travellers to and from Gondar”.
In a counter-attack on Wednesday, Ethiopian forces targeted rebels operating along the border, killing 10 fighters and critically wounding four others, according to news agency Fana.
Two bombs, possibly fired by mortars, hit a police station on the outskirts of Mekelle and an ambulance transporting patients was attacked, and a civilian with an injury suffered during the fighting died, the agency said.
Thousands of refugees have fled to neighbouring Somalia since the fighting erupted last week.
The conflict escalated in Mekelle after government forces traded rocket-propelled grenades for anti-tank guns and anti-aircraft missiles in an attempt to neutralise rebels on the outskirts of town.