Ethnic Amhara forces have been going “door-to-door” to round up anyone who is ethnic Tigrayan in the latest harrowing evidence of population cleansing in Ethiopia’s blood-drenched civil war.
“Feven Berhe was an innocent resident who owned a small shop. They took her to Tekeze river and shot her,” said one resident, who knew the 40-year-old victim well.
“Before they killed her, they removed her eyes and cut off her legs. They did not let anyone pick her body up and bury her.”
Humera is a city of about 50,000 near Ethiopia’s border with Eritrea and Sudan. Because of its strategic location, it was one of the first places to be attacked when Ethiopia’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Eritrea’s dictator launched a devastating pincer attack to crush Tigray’s regional government in November.
For the last year, ethnic Amhara forces, who hail from a neighbouring region and are allied to the Nobel laureate, have controlled the city, along with swathes of western Tigray.
Sources said that after a stunning series of victories by the Tigrayan Defence Forces in late June, the occupying forces in Humera started to purge ethnic Tigrayans in the city.
The Telegraph understands that on 15 July, Amhara forces held a public meeting in the main municipality hall in Humera to decide the fate of Tigrayans in the areas they controlled.
“They said this; ‘We should exterminate all Tigrayan residents in the city. We must cleanse them all,” said one man who claims he attended the public meeting.
Multiple residents said that a massive campaign of arrests started soon after the meeting.
“They have been going from house to house arresting everyone. No Tigrayan is left except those who fled to Sudan or found a hiding place in the city. They have a list of Tigrayan residents from the administrative offices,” said another man.
“If it is written in your identity card that you are Tigrayan, there is no mercy,” said another.
At the beginning of August, 43 bloated and bloodied bodies were found floating down the Tekeze River, which separates the region from Sudan.
The Telegraph understands that these were some of the original victims of the purge. Residents say that when the floating bodies attracted huge international attention, Amhara forces started dumping bodies elsewhere.
Elderly people, children and pregnant women have all been taken to several detention centres and three different warehouses across the city, which have been turned into makeshift “concentration camps”, survivors said.
The Telegraph could not confirm these accounts because of major reporting restrictions in Tigray.
However, imagery analysis by Vigil Monitor (previously DX Open Network), an atrocity early warning and detection research organisation based in the UK, shows that ethnic Amhara forces and allied Ethiopian troops have been stationed at ‘numerous’ centres for the past few months.
One man the Telegraph spoke to called Gizau claimed that he had escaped one of the centres by convincing militiamen he was not fully ethnic Tigrayan.
“We were 250 detainees. The Amhara forces take detainees every night and bring new ones. The ones they take never come back,” he said.
Gizau and ten other witnesses said that people were being killed and dumped in pits around the three warehouses and in craters outside the city.
Satellite imagery partially corroborates the sources. It shows a pit roughly the size of a swimming pool outside one of the warehouses, which has been gradually filled up since mid-July.
There is a similar pattern of suspicious pits being filled up slowly over the same time period at the other locations.
“There are very suspicious holes in the ground next to the camps, in an area where no other hole gets filled with earth,” say analysts at Vigil Monitor.
The state president for Ethiopia’s Amhara region Agegnuh Teshager and the Ethiopian Prime Minister’s Office were both approached for comment on The Telegraph’s findings bit neither responded.
*Names have been changed in this article to protect identities
(Additional reporting by Will Brown in Nairobi)