The reported killings in the town of Merawi appeared to be among the deadliest incidents of the war, which erupted last July between the army and the Fano militia and has resulted in more than 200 deaths, according to UN reports last year.
Spokespersons for Ethiopia’s army and government and for the Amhara regional administration did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the reported killings in Merawi.
The incident followed clashes between the army and Fano on Monday, said three residents and a Fano fighter who participated in the fighting.
All spoke on condition of anonymity saying they feared reprisals. Reuters could not independently verify their accounts.
The state-appointed Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has documented a range of alleged abuses during the conflict, most of which it has attributed to government forces. These have included the killing of civilians in house-to-house searches and air strikes, which Reuters has also documented.
The government has not responded to specific allegations of abuses during the Amhara conflict. It said in November that an EHRC report on the subject lacked balance and that the army’s actions in the region were aimed at ensuring law and order and the rights of citizens.
The EHRC office in Amhara’s capital Bahir Dar said it had received reports of the killings in Merawi, a town of about 35,000 people, and was working “to verify and determine the magnitude of the civilian casualties”.
After Fano fighters left Merawi, army soldiers began to go from house to house killing civilians, said the three residents, two of whom said they hid in their houses for hours. The third was out of town at the time of the killings and said he spoke to neighbours about what had happened.
The first resident said he participated in the burial of 32 bodies in a single grave at a monastery and had been told by neighbours about the burial of 20 bodies in a rural area and 20 more in a Muslim cemetery.
The second resident said he saw 65 civilians buried. The third, who was out of town, said he had been told by a friend in Merawi that at least 51 civilians had been buried.
The residents said they believed the soldiers were punishing them for Fano’s actions but said they had nothing to do with the militia.
The Amhara conflict broke out less than a year after the government reached a peace deal in November 2022 to end a two-year civil war in the neighbouring Tigray region that killed tens of thousands of people.
Fano militiamen fought alongside the army against Tigrayan forces, but relations between the two sides quickly soured, in part due to the peace deal which the militiamen said left Amhara vulnerable to security threats from neighbouring regions.