Residents in Ethiopia's northern region have told human rights groups and journalists of massacres, widespread sexual violence and indiscriminate killings of civilians by security forces in the region during the conflict.

A woman leans on the wall of a damaged house which was shelled as federal-aligned forces entered the city, in Wukro, north of Mekele, on March 1, 2021. Every phase of the four-month-old conflict in Tigray has brought suffering to Wukro, a fast-growing transport hub once best-known for its religious and archaeological sites.
A woman leans on the wall of a damaged house which was shelled as federal-aligned forces entered the city, in Wukro, north of Mekele, on March 1, 2021. Every phase of the four-month-old conflict in Tigray has brought suffering to Wukro, a fast-growing transport hub once best-known for its religious and archaeological sites. (Eduardo Soteras / AFP)

United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet has agreed to Ethiopia's request for a joint investigation into the humanitarian consequences of the conflict in the country's northern Tigray region, a UN spokesman has said.

Tigray residents have told human rights groups and journalists of massacres, widespread sexual violence and indiscriminate killings of civilians by security forces in the region.

Aid workers, meanwhile, say Tigray's health system has largely collapsed and warn of possible large-scale starvation.

READ MORE: Millions of children in Ethiopia’s Tigray without access to aid

"The High Commissioner responded positively to the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission's (EHRC) request for joint investigations on Monday," Jonathan Fowler, spokesman for the Office of the UNHCRC told AFP.

The UN office is now preparing a plan in order to launch the mission as soon as possible.

Fighting began in Tigray in November, when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops to the region, blaming the area's once-dominant ruling party, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), for attacks on army camps.

Abiy declared victory in Tigray in late November after federal forces took the regional capital of Mekele, though TPLF leaders remain on the run and fighting has continued.

READ MORE: Ethiopian general says ‘defenceless’ victims suffer in Tigray’s ‘dirty war’

Ethnic cleansing?

A communications blackout made it difficult to verify conditions on the ground for weeks, though access has improved recently for humanitarian organizations and the media.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week described the violence as an "ethnic cleansing" and called for an investigation.

Ethiopia has rejected such a characterization as "unfounded and spurious."

But UN officials fear for a humanitarian catastrophe and estimate that 4.5 million people need assistance.

Source: AFP