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The Casualties of Tigray’s Conflicts

The injury-plagued life, and now death, of Asmelash Woldeselassie highlights the brutality and cyclical nature of conflicts in Ethiopia’s mountainous Tigray region. Having joined the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) around the time of its formation in 1975, Asmelash lost his eyesight when he was bombed in his hideout in the Imba Alaje Mountain during the war that ended with the guerrilla movement marching into Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, to seize power from the notorious Mengistu Haile Mariam regime in 1991. Then in 1998, when the TPLF-led government found itself at the centre of a border war with Eritrea, Asmelash lost his left arm in an airstrike on the regional capital, Mekelle. In the latest conflict that has seen the TPLF return to being a guerrilla movement, Asmelash – who was a member of its executive – was killed along with two other TPLF veterans – former foreign minister Seyoum Mesfin and former minister of federal affairs Abay Tsehaye. How Asmelah, Seyoum and Abay – all aged over 60 – died is unclear: some allege they were shot dead in cold blood, but the official Ethiopian version is that they were killed in a cave area after they refused to surrender. Their deaths came on top of the capture of several other TPLF stalwarts – including Sebhat Nega, who was paraded in front of the cameras in handcuffs and looking dishevelled, in a scene reminiscent of the capture of Iraq’s former ruler Saddam Hussein in 2003.