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Eritrean refugees' tales of horror, atrocity

Africa

Alba Camp, Eritrea - Refugees arriving here from the Senafe region of southern Eritrea are telling horrific tales of atrocities endured at the hands of occupying Ethiopian troops.

"Life was terrifying," said a tearful Tsadkan, 50. "I could never live there again." She arrived on Monday from Senafe - some 70km south-east of the Eritrean capital Asmara -- which has been occupied since May.

"Every night, the soldiers came to my house, trying to grope me, harassing me," she added.

She said she knew of the case of an 80-year-old woman who was raped by Ethiopian soldiers.

Tsadkan wears no jewellery, except for a cheap ring on her finger. The holes in her earlobes have been enlarged by the weight of her jewellery, now all gone.

"The Ethiopians took everything," she said.

"We buried our trinkets, or hid them in the toilets. But one night, they found one of the hiding places in someone's house. After that, they dug up everything in all the houses and broke all the toilets."

She said that only old people remained in the town. "The young people, who were the main victims of the Ethiopians, ran away to hide in the mountains overlooking Senafe," she said.

"Every day, the young people were arrested, interrogated and beaten to try to make them admit they were spies."

Her allegations were confirmed by Feshtion, 18, who arrived a day earlier from the village of Nedwe, 20km south of Senafe. He left his parents in the village because they were too old to make the journey.

"The young people had to hide during the day and visited their homes only at night," Feshtion said. He said he decided to run away after the occupying troops shot a 15-year-old girl dead in front of him.

But running away is a risky business, with the soldiers opening fire on the fugitives, as Ammanuel, 12, testified, showing a bullet wound in his leg.

Rezene, a small 53-year-old who fled the village of Zermosi, said the group he and eight members of his family were in was chased by Ethiopian soldiers. "They opened fire and two young people were hit."

"We were living at gun point. They kept us like prisoners of war under their Kalashnikovs. It was terrible to live there."

He said he saw soldiers tying people up, kicking them and beating them with sticks or gun butts.

Simerit, 45, said the Eritreans had also been robbed by Ethiopian civilians, many of them women.

"They took the tin roofs of the houses. All the money and the gold, they just took it away. They even took our clothes, they left us in our underwear. They took the scarfs of the Muslim girls."

She said that in May-Gundi, where roofs and doorframes were removed, "only the stones of the walls are left. If they could have, they would have taken the stones too". - Sapa-AFP

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