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Rape…Loot…Destroy…How the crimes at Ayna Eyesus typify TPLF attrocities in the Amhara Region
Ayna Eyesus is a town in the Woreda of Ayna in the Bugana District which sits on a mountain plateau some 40 kilometers northwest of the city of Lalibela. Towards the evening of September 3, 2021 as residents of Ayna Eyesus were making preparations for Ethiopian New Year, they began to receive reports that elements of the TPLF were entering their woreda that hosted a population of 49,000. Some residents fled, not knowing what to expect but most of the population stayed in the city. As elements of the rebel group entered the city from the southeast, residents said they heard weapons being fired into the air. Once in control of the city, citizens say the soldiers asked for food from local residents and businesses, and after that alcohol and strong drink. And what followed according to local government representative Geut Mella Tesema, was a three day binge of rape and sexual violence that saw 32 confirmed cases of rape with the fear that the actual number may be higher. With the stigma of rape being what it is, it is believed that some of the victims are afraid to come forward and subsequently may not receive any treatment for the traumatic event they endured.
After consuming what alcohol they could find, members of the TPLF went door to door searching out targets of opportunity. A 12 year old girl, Wolete Eyesus (her true identity withheld for her protection) was sleeping in her home with three of her friends when there was a knock at her door. As soon as she opened the door, 2 soldiers from the TPLF dragged her from her home to a room just next door and raped her.
Wolete’s story is similar to that of another story I reported on earlier this year of a 13 year old relative of the Desalegn family of Lalibela whose violent rape left the 13 year old with deep physical and psychological issues that have yet to be attended to by a medical professional.
In a seperate case, a woman wanted to speak to us with her 5 year old son. She owned a small bar and recounted to us how 3 TPLF soldiers gang raped her at her bar, in front of her 5 year old son. At less than 2 feet in height, her son tried to get the men to stop hurting his mother and for that they kicked him to the side of the room and finished assaulting his mother.
Even after the fact that 3 months had passed, Mother and son were so traumatized that her son didnt manage any sounds at all while his mother sat across from us, anxious, nervously fumbling with her hands and crying as she recounted her ordeal.
Government official Mr. Tesema conveyed that no one was spared the onslaught and that even the wife of a local Priest was sexually assaulted by the TPLF, right in front of her husband. Over the next three days violent sexual assaults occurred to the degree that church officials appealed to the TPLF forces occupying Ayna to have mercy and not to harm civilians. But that plea for mercy fell on deaf ears. As the sexual violence began to over take the city, three men were shot dead, one of whom because he was believed to be a member of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces, simply because of the boots he wore. At that point residents had begun to witness sexual assaults and beatings occur in public spaces. Residents were being mugged, robbed of their personal possessions and abused at will with there being 45 recorded cases of severe beatings, some of those victims being among the original victims of sexual assault.
During this spree of physical and sexual violence, the city and surrounding kebele’s were being looted clean. The local Kebele in the center of Ayna which housed the financial offices for Ayna Eyesus had their massive safes broken into and destroyed, the contents pilfered.
Hard Drives were taken from computers while laptops and other computers were taken. In Total 420 computers from the various government offices were stripped or damaged beyond repair.
Vital records were trashed or destroyed and other infrastructure that could not be removed were severely damaged or destroyed.
Towards the 3rd day of occupation, according to Kebele official Mr. Tesema, huge trucks that reportedly had Messebo Cement Factory logo’s on them pulled up and loaded up with looted materials and goods to be taken back to Tigray. According to Tesema, the TPLF looted over 900 business across 8 kebele’s in the Bugana District. Food, electronics, computers medical supplies and currency valued at 79 million Ethiopian Birr ($1,615,541 USD) were looted, loaded onto lories and trucked back to Tigray. Looted items included:
16 water pumps for the city and surrounding communities.
17 solar panels meant for distribution around the city.
9 refrigerators for medical use.
5 vehicles, 2 of them ambulances, one for the water supply, the other for emergency services. 6 other vehicles were stripped for parts.
Subsequently, the looting and damage to infrastructure resulted in the 7 confirmed deaths of expectant mothers due to lack of infrastructure and the hospitals being mere buildings with no medical equipment. Those suffering with chronic illness are also suffering as there are no medical resources readily available to them.
In addition to looting and destroying the local bank, the traditional community lending instituition was destroyed as well.
The TPLF left on September 8, taking their looted goods back to Tigrey. On November 24, 2021 they returned again for another 3 days, this time violently killing 6 residents, shooting them mercilessly before joining the general retreat from the Amhara region back to Tigray.
The result of the atrocities at Ayna Eyesus and the surrounding Kebele’s is that 49,000 people are now without a safety net, lacking basic medical resources and key infrastructure necessary to resume any semblance of normal life. As of December 23, 2021, none of the numerous victims of sexual violance in Ayna Eyesus have had any treatment of any kind, be it physical or mental for the violence and subsequent trauma they endured. Whats needed in Ayna Eyesus and other towns that have suffered similar traumatic episodes are not only the most basic of resources but also a bevy of trained social workers and psychotherapist trained in addressing deep core trauma and sexual violence. Treating and starting down the path of healing for victims of gender based violence is just as, if not more important than rebuilding any physical infrastructure because our mothers, sisters and daughters are the real soul of any nation. We cannot in any capacity move forward as a society and heal if we do not prioritize and address the plight of woman and girls devastated by gender based and sexual violence.
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