Ethiopian Army used Cluster bombing on Tigray – more than 500 structures destroyed in Gijet

Eritrea Ethiopia Tigray

(By Jen Nyssen, Department of Geography, Ghent University, Belgium, 12 March 2021) –

The map of civilian victims in the Tigray war1 does not include victims of the recent bombardments on the towns of Samre and Gijet, located southwest of Tigray’s regional capital Mekelle. Indeed, on 20-25 February 2021, the ENDF2 has carried out multiple air raids on the towns of Gijet and Samre, held by the Tigray resistance. On 25 February, New York Times journalist Christiaan Triebert mentions that the Ethiopian Air Force bombings of Samre are evidenced by multiple photos of the tails of Soviet-era RBK cluster bombs3, likely RBK250 (Fig. 1). 

Fig. 1. Tails of RBK-250 cluster bombs, as recovered nearby Samre – Photos availed by Christiaan Triebert (NYT)4.

Fig. 2. Villagers have collected the bomb tails. Building style in red sandstone is typical for Samre’s surroundings. Note the wear and tear on the footpath, another typical feature of the sandstone5 in the surroundings of Samre – Photos availed by Christiaan Triebert (NYT).

The recovered tails of the cluster bombs are fairly undamaged (Fig. 2), as it separates from the rest as the bomb falls, thereby releasing dozens of smaller, explosive bomblets that drop indiscriminately

(Fig. 3). 

Reuters Africa reports that satellite imagery shows more than 500 destroyed buildings in Gijet and three surrounding villages, between 21 and 23 February (Fig. 4).  MapEthiopia, which follow the military situation on the ground, mention that after a relentless air campaign, the ENDF has captured the towns of Samre and Gijet8. Intense airstrikes have forced the civilian population and TDF fighters out into the mountains to seek shelter from the bombs. MapEthiopia further state that “The towns here have seen a flip flop of territorial control although this is the first time that intense airstrikes have been used here. [We] could see similar tactics and strategies being used by the ENDF for other towns and large villages under TDF control”. 

Fig. 5. Flip-flop of territorial control Samre and Gijet area on 28 February 2021, after Map Ethiopia9.

Because cluster bombs release many small bomblets over a wide area10, they pose risks to civilians both during attacks and afterwards. Cluster munitions are prohibited for the 120 nations that ratified the Convention on Cluster Munitions11; Ethiopia and Eritrea are not part of the convention. Yet, the use of these cluster bombs amounts to war crime12.

Due to communication black-out, numbers of victims and their names are not yet known. One telephone contact mentions that victims “are numerous”. He describes a scorched earth campaign in the Samre-Adeba area with (among other things) the mango orchards in Adeba’s irrigation area

(13.13528°N, 39.31776°E) cut down by Eritrean troops. No rationale except hatred and destruction.




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