ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Armed forces from Ethiopia's Amhara region have stepped up killings, mass detentions and expulsions of ethnic Tigrayans in neighbouring western Tigray, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Thursday.
Separately, Tigrayan television reported that air raids by the Ethiopian military on the town of Alamata, in southern Tigray, had killed 28 people. Reuters could not independently verify the report and telephone links to the area are down. Government and military spokespeople did not return messages seeking comment.
Amhara regional spokesman Gizachew Muluneh described the allegations of abuses in western Tigray as "groundless and unjustifiable". Ethiopian government spokesman Legesse Tulu said Tigrayan forces were to blame for any atrocities.
Western Tigray has seen some of the worst violence in the year-long conflict pitting the federal government and its allies from the Amhara region against the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), which used to rule Ethiopia.
Both Amhara and Tigray claim the fertile fields of western Tigray, which are now controlled by Amhara forces and the Ethiopian military. The United Nations Office for Humanitarian Affairs has said that 1.2 million people have been forced out of western Tigray since the conflict began, including more than 10,000 in the last week of November.
Amnesty and HRW said 31 people in western Tigray interviewed by phone in November and December described a surge of abuses by Amhara security forces and militias.
"Tigrayan civilians attempting to escape the new wave of violence have been attacked and killed. Scores in detention face life-threatening conditions including torture, starvation, and denial of medical care," the groups said in a joint statement.
Gizachew, the Amhara spokesman, rejected the allegations as false. He told Reuters the regional security forces were defending Amhara civilians within their own region who he said had been the victims of atrocities committed by TPLF-aligned forces.
"It is embarrassing to accuse the Amhara Regional Government security forces while our people are suffering from appalling humanitarian disaster due to the TPLF invasion," he said.
REPORTED AIR RAIDS
Tigrai TV, a media outlet controlled by the Tigray state government, broadcast footage of what it said was the aftermath of six rounds of air strikes in Alamata. A reporter said 28 civilians including a seven-year-old girl were killed and about 78 injured.
The footage, which was grainy in parts, showed several bodies lying on the ground amid pools of blood, one body being loaded onto a cart and one into a van. Wounded were shown being treated in Alamata hospital.
Military spokesman Colonel Getnet Adane and Legesse did not return messages seeking comment.
TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda tweeted that there had been a drone strike in Alamata that killed many civilians.
Rights groups say all sides have committed abuses. Days after war broke out in November 2020, mass killings were reported in western Tigray, including the Mai Kadra massacre, when Tigrayans killed hundreds of Amhara civilians and then Tigrayans were killed in retaliation.
HRW said last week that Tigrayan forces had summarily executed dozens of civilians in two towns they controlled in the Amhara region between Aug. 31 and Sept. 9.
(Reporting by Addis Ababa newsroom, Elias Biryabarema and Katharine Houreld in Nairobi, writing by Estelle Shirbon, editing by Philippa Fletcher)