First witness account emerges of Ethiopians fleeing conflict

Map locates the Tigray area
Map locates the Tigray area

NAIROBI – The sound of heavy weapons erupted across the Ethiopian border town, and immediately Filimon, a police officer, started to run.

Now, shaken and scared, he pauses when asked about his wife and two small children, ages 5 and 2. “I don’t know where my family is now,” he said, unsure if they were left behind in the fighting or are somewhere in the growing crowd of thousands of new refugees over the border in Sudan.

In an interview with The Associated Press by phone from Sudan on Thursday, the 30-year-old gave one of the first witness accounts from what experts warn is a brewing civil war with devastating humanitarian consequences. The conflict could draw in neighboring countries, too.

Filimon, who gave only his first name, said those attacking the Tigray regional town of Humera last week came from the direction of nearby Eritrea, though it was impossible to know whether the attackers were Eritrean forces.

Tigray regional leaders have accused Eritrea of joining the week-long conflict in the region at the request of Ethiopia’s federal government, which regards the Tigray government as illegal. Ethiopia has denied the involvement of Eritrean forces.

Filimon’s worries are far more immediate. After a day-long journey on foot with some 30 others fleeing, he has spent two days in Sudan, exposed to the sun and wind in a border town that is quickly becoming overwhelmed.

About 11,000 refugees have fled into Sudan, where authorities are preparing for up to 100,000, the United Nations refugee agency said Thursday.

Half of the refugees are children.