(Reuters) – Sudan summoned Ethiopia’s ambassador to Khartoum to inform him that 29 corpses found on the banks of a river abutting Ethiopia were those of Ethiopian citizens from the Tigray ethnic group, Sudan’s foreign ministry said.

It said in a statement late on Tuesday that the ambassador had been summoned on Aug. 30 and was told that the bodies had been found between July 26 and Aug. 8 on the Sudanese side of the Setit River, known in Ethiopia as the Tekeze.

The corpses were identified by Ethiopians residing in the Wad al Hulaywah area of eastern Sudan, it said.

The statement did not say how the people died.

Dozens of bodies found floating in river between Ethiopia's Tigray and  Sudan | Ethiopia | The Guardian
Ethiopians at the Tekeze River, also known as the Setit River, that runs between the Tigray region in the country and neighbouring Sudan Photograph: El Tayeb Siddig/Reuters

Dina Mufti, spokesperson for the Ethiopian Foreign Affairs Ministry, did not immediately respond to request for comment

The river is the current de facto borderline between territory controlled by Tigrayan forces and those controlled by Amhara forces allied with Ethiopia’s federal government. At a different point the river also separates Sudan from Ethiopia.

Tensions between Sudan and Ethiopia have been running high because of a spillover of the conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region and Ethiopia’s construction of a giant hydropower dam on the Blue Nile.

Tens of thousands of refugees have fled into eastern Sudan and there have been military skirmishes in an area of contested farmland along the border between Sudan and Ethiopia.

Sudanese authorities said on Sunday they had confiscated a weapons shipment that arrived by air from Ethiopia on suspicion the arms were destined for use in “crimes against the state”.

Sudan’s interior ministry said later on Monday that the shipment had turned out to be part of a legal cargo imported by a licensed arms trader.

Two Ethiopian health workers in the Sudan border community of Hamdayet confirmed seeing the bodies found in the Setit river, known in Ethiopia as the Tekeze.

The river flows through some of the most troubled areas of the nine-month conflict in Tigray, where ethnic Tigrayans have accused Ethiopian and allied forces of atrocities while battling Tigray forces.

Tewodros Tefera, a surgeon who fled the nearby Tigray city of Humera to Sudan, told the Associated Press that two of the bodies were found on Monday, one a man with his hands bound and the other a woman with a chest wound. Fellow refugees have buried at least 10 other bodies, he said.

He shared a video of men appearing to prepare a shroud for a body floating face-down in the river.

Tewodros said the bodies were found downstream from Humera, where authorities and allied fighters from Ethiopia’s Amhara region have been accused by refugees of forcing out local Tigrayans during the war while claiming that western Tigray is their land.

“We are actually taking care of the bodies spotted by fishermen,” Tewodros said. “I suspect there are more bodies on the river.”

While it was difficult to identify the bodies, one had a common name in the Tigray language, Tigrinya, tattooed on his arm, the surgeon said.

Another doctor working in Hamdayet who saw the bodies told the The Associated Press that some of the corpses had facial markings indicating they were ethnic Tigrayans. “I saw a lot of barbaric things,” said the doctor, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to reporters. “Some had been struck by an axe.”

Witnesses at the river told him they had not been able to catch all the bodies floating downstream because of the water’s swift flow during the rainy season, the doctor said.

An Ethiopian government-created Twitter account on Monday called the accounts of bodies a fake campaign by “propagandists” among the Tigray forces.

Fighting in Tigray broke out in November between Ethiopia’s federal forces and the region’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed, a 2019 Nobel peace prize winner, said his forces’ move into the region was in response to TPLF attacks on federal army camps.

The conflict has killed thousands and sent tens of thousands fleeing into neighbouring Sudan.

Samantha Power, administrator of the US Agency for International Development, on Monday visited a refugee camp in Sudan hosting thousands of Ethiopians who fled the Tigray war. She next will visit Ethiopia to press the government to allow humanitarian aid to Tigray, a region of some 6 million people where the world’s worst hunger crisis in a decade is unfolding. The US says up to 900,000 people now face famine conditions.

The UN food agency said it is working to provide food to Tigray through Sudan despite frayed ties between Khartoum and Addis Ababa.

Negotiations to access the blocked Tigray region have proved to be quite difficult, Marianne Ward, the World Food Program’s deputy country director in Sudan, said. She said WFP has already moved 50,000 tons of wheat to Ethiopia through Sudan.

The Disaster and Risk Management Agency has recorded 150 death due to starvation in August in Mai Kinetal, Kola Tembien and Tanqua Milash in the central zone, Hawzen in the Eastern Zone and Silawa and Enda Mekoni in the Southern Zone as well as IDP camps in Shire. One million people are at risk of fatal famine if they are prohibited from receiving life-saving aid within the next few days. The size of the population in need of emergency assistance now stands at 5.3 million. Since June 28th, 270,000 mt of food aid should have arrived in Tigray to fend off large-scale famine, and sustain the 6.8 million people in need of emergency assistance. To date, 5,200 mt or 1.9% has arrived in Tigray.

This week USAID and OCHA announced the death of an additional 11 aid workers from the Relief Society of Tigray (REST), this brings the number of murdered aid workers to 23, 22 of whom are Tigrayans.
September 9 will mark a year since the much hailed regional elections were held. The people of Tigray’s decision to exercise their right to vote and elect a legitimate government, a sacred liberal democratic right, has been punished with inconceivable atrocities perpetrated by those who found democracy posed a direct threat to their political ambitions.

National Government of Tigray, Reuters, AP and AFP

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