As Tigrayan militia men were “preparing to film a scene” staging Eritrean soldiers mutilating women’s breasts, the refugee hostages who became actors forced to dressed up in Eritrean army uniform, made a daring escape in December, in a new damning revelation from Tigray disclosed Friday by an European migrant advocate Dr Natalia Paszkiewicz.
Polish-European anthropologist Dr Natalia Paszkiewicz has been a well-known name among the tens of thousands of Eritrean refugees who crossed the border to the northern Tigray region of Ethiopia since 2002. As a critic of the Eritrean government and an expertise on migration studies, she has been documenting the plight of these immigrants for years and advocating for the resettlement of asylum-seekers.
Since the war in Tigray broke out in November after the local Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) waged a coordinated insurrection against the Ethiopian government, Dr Paszkiewicz’s accounts have been one of the most dependable source of information. In recent weeks, she recounted several refugee witnesses from Hitsats camp being shot at by TPLF-affiliated local Tigrayan militia and villagers.
While the Eritrean government is known to oppose these camps that became a magnet for its dissidents, Eritrean refugees have recently been caught up in the middle of both sides of the conflict since the outbreak of war. Many of them have already died. As TPLF faced defeat at the hands of Ethiopian forces and their Eritrean allies, desperate Tigrayan fighters pushed conspiracy theories that the innocent Eritrean refugees were “Shabiya” and brutally shot at them, according to Dr Paszkiewicz.
Her latest account of events, however, has thrown even more scrutiny on how numerous “self-incriminating” videos, allegedly filmed by the Ethiopian federal army, mysteriously ended up at the hands of TPLF’s media outlets like Tigray Media House (TMH) who later forwarded to CNN and other Western media.
According to Dr Paszkiewicz’s account of another group of refugees who fled from Hitsats camp, the local Tigrayan militia held a group of 40 refugees hostage. “Then they selected 10 refugees and told them to wear Eritrean army uniforms.” Afterwards, the militia men gave them “knives and told them to cut breasts of women from the group.”
“As (TPLF) militia men were preparing to film the scene with their mobile” phones, fighting broke out with another refugee man who attempted to escape. “Others used this opportunity to escape. Some got killed. That’s when the boy I spoke to got shot in his hands,” said Dr Paszkiewicz, revealing a photo of the refugee witness who got shot.
This independent account of TPLF-affiliated local militias using an Eritrean army uniform for sabotage purposes confirms previous reports of TPLF producing Ethiopian army and Eritrean army uniforms at its Almeda textile factory since the middle of 2020. However, this is the first independent corroboration on TPLF’s use of video recording devices to stage atrocities — or in this case commit atrocities — in an effort to frame the Ethiopian and Eritrean government forces.
Critics of the clumsy and remote-investigation of the Tigray conflict by Western organizations say this latest revelation might be one of the most damaging evidence that refutes media narratives of “crimes against humanity” by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces. Awasa Guardian (AG) can not independently verify if all the videos of alleged atrocities in Tigray used by Western media and rights organizations have been manufactured in a similar fashion. However, CNN and other media outlets have also admitted their inability to independently verify if perpetrators of the atrocities are indeed Ethiopian and Eritrean forces, as claimed by TPLF’s media sources who provided the videos to CNN’s Sudanese journalist Nima Elbagir, among others.
Yet, this is not the first time CNN’s Nima Elbagir and other journalists reporting from afar, have been accused of using manipulated information exclusively from pro-TPLF Tigrayan sources in Sudan. Getty Images journalist Jemal Countess has documented evidence that Amhara refugees who fled to Sudan due to the Maikadra Massacre were forced to return back to Ethiopia when TPLF fighters later went into Sudan. This reality has made critics doubt the reliability of those sources in Sudan providing much of the pro-TPLF alternative accounts published by western media and human rights organizations about Tigray.
Raped and thrown into ditch
Further evidence gathered by Dr Paszkiewicz showed the brutality of the Tigrayan militia was not limited to the camps, as surviving Eritrean refugees repeatedly faced more militias as they tried to make their way out of Tigray. Thousands of refugees displaced out of their camps travelled in numerous and often isolated small groups until they crossed the Tigray border into the safety of Amhara region. In one incident, refugee survivors of a previous attack by TPLF fighters were met with one Tigrayan militia after another. Survivors said some of the militia viciously “raped women” and then executed the women refugees, according to Dr Paszkiewicz.
The Tigrayan militia also “rounded up other refugees, altogether 80, in a gold excavation ditch. Then they threw hand grenades into ditch, killing some and injuring others, who didn’t survive due to lack of medical aid.”
“The man I spoke to had to make his way out removing dead bodies which surrounded him in the ditch,” said Dr Paszkiewicz, adding that he waited about 30 minutes until the militia left.
It is unknown if this Tigrayan (TPLF) militia similarly photographed or filmed those dead bodies to be used for propaganda purpose against the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments. However, Awasa Guardian (AG) sources can confirm that TPLF satellite tv & affiliated diaspora media operatives have repeatedly posted or broadcasted tactics coaching their audience in Tigray on how to produce anti-government content, how to interact with foreign journalists and even where to meet those journalists. Since the Ethiopian government opened up the war-zone region to international media journalists in 2021, Addis Ababa has allegedly attempted, but mostly failed, to jam these TPLF-affiliated satellite channels broadcasting from outside.
WPF’s director Pays tribute
AG has also previously reported on the credibility problems facing these pro-TPLF media outlets and activists feeding Western media and promoting the “Tigray Genocide” narrative with no evidence. Critics have similarly cited conflict of interest and reliability concerns with foreign political analysts with a long history of attachment to TPLF going back to the 1990s, including Martin Plaut and Alex De Waal who was hired as Director of World Peace Foundation (WPF). Since the Tigray war broke out, Alex de Waal has allegedly disseminated military communique propaganda directly from TPLF leaders and published over 25 articles in various western media in defense of TPLF. In his most bizarre article, the WPF director wrote a tribute paying homage to a fallen TPLF leader Seyoum Mesfin, who infamously promised to “turn Ethiopia into Syria” in October 2020.
Recently, several diaspora pro-TPLF Tigrayans have also hired expensive lobbyists in the United States to push alternative facts about Tigray; including a Virginia based Tigrayan organization, while pro-TPLF groups have also paid tens of thousands of dollars for advertisement in Western media markets.
Consequently, critics have been quick to contrast the millions of dollars wasted by Tigrayan diaspora to help TPLF on the one hand; compared with the millions of dollars fundraised by Ethiopians to support Tigray relief efforts— including donations by Ethiopian regional administrations nationwide and even by famous Amharas and artists like The Weeknd. Proponents of Addis Ababa’s response to the TPLF insurrection say those Tigrayan activists, who recently raised over $2 million for the rebels, do not want the humanitarian crisis to improve as TPLF’s survival depends on the situation worsening; while in contrast, the Nobel Prize winning Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed wants conditions to turn normal for his government’s image. In some cases, Tigrayan militia have been accused of ambushing passenger and humanitarian delivery vehicles in roads leading to towns. Accordingly, interim Tigrayan officials on the ground have confirmed that TPLF insurgents were intentionally blocking food aid routes and they have asked the international community to condemn these unlawful acts, instead of disseminating the narrative of TPLF insurrectionists.
Historians on the Horn of Africa have noted, while the odds are against them this time, the strategies used by TPLF today are a mirror image of the Tigrayan insurgency of the 1980s. According to BBC and other media, several former members of the TPLF and whistleblowers have revealed how TPLF fighters staged actors and merchants to “fool” western aid workers. The explosive reports disclosed that up to 95 percent of money raised for the famine was stolen by TPLF leaders in the 1980s, leading to the death of hundreds of thousands of their own people – ethnic Tigrayans. Consequently, many independent observers believe the key to reducing further humanitarian crisis and death toll in Tigray today is the international community condemning the TPLF insurgents whose leaders have been emboldened by the success of their propaganda campaign influencing Western media.