ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia—An airstrike in the town of Togoga in Ethiopia’s Tigray region on June 22 has killed at least 43 people, a medical official told Reuters, after residents said new fighting had flared north of the regional capital Mekelle in recent days.
Ethiopian military spokesman Col. Getnet Adane didn’t confirm or deny the incident. He said airstrikes were a common military tactic and that government forces don’t target civilians.
The bomb hit a market at around 1 p.m., according to a woman who said her husband and 2-year-old daughter had been injured.
“We didn’t see the plane, but we heard it,” she told Reuters on June 23. “When the explosion happened, everyone ran out. After a time, we came back and were trying to pick up the injured.”
The woman said the market had been full of families, and she didn’t see any armed forces in the area. “Many, many” people had been killed, she said.
Reuters couldn’t independently verify her account. She and other sources asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals.
The medical official confirmed at least 43 fatalities, citing witnesses and first responders.
A spokesperson for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the head of a government task force on Tigray didn’t respond to requests for comment on the incident by press time.
News of the airstrike came as Ethiopian officials counted ballots from national and regional parliamentary elections held this week in seven of the nation’s 10 regions.
No voting was held in Tigray, where the military has been battling forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the region’s former ruling party, since November. Security concerns and problems with ballot papers also delayed voting in two other regions.
Residents reported that TPLF forces had entered several towns north of Mekelle in the past three days, withdrawing from one of them within hours.
The official and two other health workers helping with the response in Togoga told Reuters on June 23 that Ethiopian soldiers were blocking the main road from Mekelle to the town and preventing ambulances from reaching the scene.
“Patients are dying right now,” the official said.
He said two ambulances had been able to reach the town via a back road late on June 22, but didn’t have the necessary equipment and weren’t being allowed to leave.
He said the teams had counted at least 40 dead at the scene, three people had died overnight, and there were 44 critically wounded patients needing treatment.
Another medical worker said around 20 health workers in six ambulances had tried to reach the wounded on June 22, but soldiers stopped them at a checkpoint.
“They told us we couldn’t go to Togoga. We stayed more than one hour at the checkpoint trying to negotiate. We had a letter from the health bureau—we showed them. But they said it was an order.”
Military spokesman Getnet denied that the military was blocking ambulances.