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An Ethiopian woman who says she was gang-raped by armed men is seen during an interview with Reuters in a hospital in the town of Adigrat, Tigray region, Ethiopia, March 18, It was the beginning of an day ordeal in February, during which she says she was repeatedly raped by 23 soldiers who forced nails, a rock and other items into her vagina, and threatened her with a knife. Doctors showed Reuters the bloodstained stone and two 3-inch nails they said they had removed from her body. The woman, 27, is among hundreds who have reported that they were subjected to horrific sexual violence by Ethiopian and allied Eritrean soldiers after fighting broke out in November in the mountainous northern region of Ethiopia, doctors said.
Some women were held captive for extended periods, days or weeks at a time, said Dr Fasika Amdeselassie, the top public health official for the government-appointed interim administration in Tigray. Reports of rape have been circulating for months. In addition, eight other doctors at five public hospitals told Reuters that most of the rape victims described their attackers as either Ethiopian government soldiers or Eritrean troops.
It was more common for women to report sexual violence by Eritrean soldiers, the doctors said. Most people interviewed for this article declined to be identified. They said they feared reprisals, including possible violence, by soldiers who guard the hospitals and towns. He did not identify the alleged perpetrators. He said then for the first time that Eritrean soldiers had entered the conflict in Tigray in support of the Ethiopian government after the TPLF attacked military bases across the region in the early hours of Nov.
The TPLF was the dominant power in the central government when Eritrea fought a bloody border war with Ethiopia a generation ago. No charges have been announced by civilian or military prosecutors against any soldiers. The alleged sexual violence has drawn international attention.
An Ethiopian military spokesman and the head of a government task force on the Tigray crisis did not respond to phone calls and text messages seeking comment. Reuters could not reach military leaders in either country. Reuters was unable to reach a TPLF spokesman.
Fasika, the health official, said at least cases of sexual assault have been reported at the five hospitals since the conflict in Tigray began. Rape is underreported in Ethiopia because it carries a huge stigma. Most of the women who have come forward are either pregnant or sustained severe physical injury from the rapes, Fasika said. Reuters interviewed 11 women who said they had been raped by soldiers from Eritrea, Ethiopia or both. Four said they were kidnapped, taken to military camps and gang raped, in some cases alongside other women. The women did not know the camp names but said they were located near Mekelle and the towns of Idaga Hamus, Wukro and Sheraro.
Five other women said they were held in fields or deserted houses for up to six days. And two said they were raped in their own homes. Reuters could not independently verify their s. However, all told similar stories of being beaten and brutalized. The healthcare providers also shared details of nine other cases of sexual assault, including the ordeals of two year-old girls. The rapes are to punish Tigray.
The year-old mother said uniformed soldiers from Eritrea pulled her off a minibus on the road from Mekelle to the city of Adigrat on Feb. They tied her up and marched her through fields to a bush camp, she said. After 11 days of rapes and beatings, she said, the soldiers forced nails, cotton, plastic bags and a rock into her vagina and left her alone in the bush. Villagers found her unconscious and brought her to a nearby hospital. She said she was still bleeding from severe internal injuries and could not control her urine, walk without a crutch or sit up for long periods.
One leg was broken, she said. She also described a different kind of pain: While in the hospital, she has no way to speak to her 4-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter because the Eritrean soldiers took her cell phone. She had left the children with her mother to search for food and never returned. A year-old mother in Mekelle told Reuters that soldiers removed her from a minibus on the same road at the end of February. They were dressed in Ethiopian uniforms, she said, but spoke with an Eritrean accent and had traditional facial scarification typical of the neighbouring country.
She said they shot her year-old son dead in front of her, then brought her to a camp where she was held with other female captives and repeatedly raped for 10 days. I want this to end with me. A year-old house cleaner said soldiers grabbed her from a street in Mekelle on the afternoon of Feb. Wiping away tears, she said that during her two-week ordeal, soldiers doused her with alcohol and mocked her as they assaulted her.
She escaped when her captors were distracted by gunfire, she said. The government has set up a task force separate from the human rights commission to investigate the reports of sexual violence. The task force plans to set up five centers where rape survivors can file reports with law enforcement and receive medical and psychosocial support. He did not respond to questions about the women alleging they were raped during captivity, or whether prosecutors were in touch with either the Eritrean or Ethiopian militaries.
The of the criminal investigations will be released publicly at an unspecified date, he said. Knowing their rapists are still at large also has discouraged women from seeking help, doctors said. Many of the women who sought treatment at hospitals had vaginal and anal tears, sexually transmitted diseases and injuries that rendered them incontinent, said the Ayder hospital doctor, an obstetrician gynecologist.
The doctor shared notes from 11 cases the hospital had treated involving women raped by soldiers. One woman had been gang raped on three separate occasions, according to the hospital notes. Another was five months pregnant when she was raped, the notes indicate. Two year-old girls were sexually assaulted in front of their families. One girl had a hand and foot amputated. She had been shot for resisting her assailant. Subscribe for our daily curated newsletter to receive the latest exclusive Reuters coverage delivered to your inbox.
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