Addis Ababa, May 17, 2022 (FBC) – Authorities in Ethiopia’s war-shattered Tigray region are forcing young people to join their army’s fight against the central government by threatening and jailing relatives, according to residents.

Reuters conducted a dozen interviews from February to May with residents of Tigray, captured fighters and aid workers that provide a picture of forced recruitment by local officials in several parts of the region.

Kindeya Gebrehiwot, from the Tigray external relations office, told Reuters by email that some low ranking government officials had detained family members to force their relatives to enlist but said such incidents were rare, the relatives had been released and the officials punished.

Ethiopian government spokesman Legesse Tulu said government officials had received multiple reports of forced recruitment.

The pattern began late last year, according to two captured Tigrayan fighters who spoke in February from a hospital in the neighbouring Afar region.

It accelerated in January and intensified with mass arrests last month, added six Tigray residents, who all said they had friends or family members detained in an aggressive push to make people enlist.

One of the captured fighters, 18-year-old Aleyu, described how a senior local official, whose name he did not know, came to his house in Endabaguna in northwest Tigray on Nov. 10. Reuters withheld Aleyu’s surname to prevent repercussions for him or his family.

“He said my mother would be jailed and my family fined between 10,000 to 20,000 Ethiopian,” Aleyu said. “He forced me to join.”

The second fighter, Filmon, an 18-year-old student from the Tigrayan capital Mekelle, said officials held a meeting in their neighbourhood in November and told families to contribute one person to the armed forces or face fines or imprisonment. He did not specify which officials held the meeting.

“I joined. I didn’t want my mum to go to jail,” said Filmon, receiving treatment after losing his left leg in an ambush.

Each one said they either had a relative in jail or personally knew at least a dozen families who did.

One resident said a leaflet was distributed at recruitment drives in the neighbourhood meeting halls in January calling on residents not to “hide”. “For now, without any delay, go to military training and contribute to your motherland,” read the document, reviewed by Reuters.

The leaflet was dated Jan. 9 and stamped in the name of Tigray’s regional government and Mekelle city administration. Reuters was unable to determine independently its authenticity.

Another resident – a newly-married man who asked not to be named for fear of repercussions – said his pregnant wife was detained in April following a mandatory neighbourhood meeting, while he was away at work.

People at the meeting, and at the police station where his wife was taken, told her she would not be released unless he joined up, the man said.

His wife was released the next day after other female detainees shamed the guards for jailing a pregnant woman, he said. A colleague at his humanitarian organisation, who contacted authorities on his behalf, confirmed his account.

A new study finding released by consortium of 10 public universities shows that the TPLF forces killed and gang raped over 7,000 innocent civilians in their short-lived occupation of the Amhara Regional State.

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