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Video shows kidnapped labourers in Ethiopia, not government soldiers held by rebel fighters

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Claims of rebels capturing thousands of Ethiopian soldiers in the country’s restive Amhara region have become a popular disinformation topic on social media. One post recently featured a video of men in civilian clothes being marched down a mountainside by armed individuals. However, the captives in the footage were not Ethiopian troops: officials said the clip showed labourers from southern Ethiopia who had been snatched by militia in Amhara while heading to work on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in neighbouring Benishangul Gumuz region.

“Thousands of soldiers of the regime have been captured,” reads a line of Amharic text on a TikTok video posted to Facebook on March 1, 2024.

The video has since been removed from TikTok but garnered more than 110 shares and 1,300 likes on Facebook.

Another strip of text at the bottom of the footage reads: “Drive these invaders like cattle.”

<span>Screenshot of the false post, taken on March 25, 2024 </span>

Screenshot of the false post, taken on March 25, 2024

The name of the Facebook page where the video was posted translates from Amharic to “The Amhara Fano”.

The Fano are an Ethiopian rebel group in the Amhara region. They have been fighting Ethiopian troops — referred to as “invaders” in the text overlay of the misleading video — since July 2023.

Another Facebook post shared the footage on the same day, claiming it showed soldiers captured by Fano in the Gojjam zone in Amhara in what it termed an “Adwa victory”.

Adwa refers to a battle in 1896 when Ethiopia defeated invading Italian forces.

Conflict in Amhara 

The armed conflict in the Amhara region has caused civilian deaths and a severe humanitarian crisis. In February 2024, the Ethiopian parliament voted to extend a state of emergency first imposed in August 2023 across the region (archived here).

Local media reported that fighting recently intensified in many zones in Amhara, including Gojjam, North Shoa, Gondar and Wollo (archived here).

However, the claim that the footage shows government soldiers captured by Fano is false.

‘Labourers’ from Gardula

AFP Fact Check conducted a keyword search in Amharic for “people captured by armed groups in Amhara region”.

One of the results included this article reporting that the people shown in the footage were labourers from the Gardula zone in the Southern region who were “abducted” by Fano fighters while on their way to work on clearing forests for the GERD — a multibillion dollar hydro project on the Blue Nile nearing completion (archived here).

The Addis Stanard article, published on March 7, 2024, featured a screenshot from the video.

<span>Screenshot of the story by Addis Standard, taken March 26, 2024</span>

Screenshot of the story by Addis Standard, taken March 26, 2024

The GERD is located in the Benishangul Gumuz region, in an area bordering Amhara known as Guba.

Map of East Africa showing the Nile and the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (LAURENCE CHU, AUDE GENET, JANIS LATVELS / AFP)

Fano allegedly captured the workers near Debre Markos in Amhara’s Gojjam zone in late February 2024.

<span>Screenshot of a Google Map showing distance between Debre Markos and Guba, taken on March 26, 2024. </span>

Screenshot of a Google Map showing distance between Debre Markos and Guba, taken on March 26, 2024.

In a press statement (archived here) issued on Facebook a day before the Addis Standard article, local officials from Gardula said that footage was circulating showing “labourers being escorted to unknown locations by Fano militia fighters”.

On March 11, 2024, an independent Ethiopian journalist shared copies of official-looking documents on Facebook (archived here), which indicated that  a construction company had asked to hire several hundred labourers from the Gardula zone. Their demand had been approved by the labour and social affairs bureau.

<span>Screenshot of the official documentation published on Facebook by an independent journalist, taken on March 26, 2024</span>

Screenshot of the official documentation published on Facebook by an independent journalist, taken on March 26, 2024

 

Captives freed

The state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate (FBC) reported on March 23, 2024, that the army had freed “271 people who were kidnapped by Fano” (archived here).

The story included a picture of the freed labourers.

AFP Fact Check identified individuals wearing the same clothes in the FBC image published following after their release and in the footage of their capture.

<span>Screenshots of the false post (left) and the FBC’s picture, taken on March 25, 2024</span>

Screenshots of the false post (left) and the FBC’s picture, taken on March 25, 2024

<span>Screenshots of the false post (left) and the FBC’s picture, taken on March 25, 2024</span>

Screenshots of the false post (left) and the FBC’s picture, taken on March 25, 2024

On March 26, 2024, the Gardula Zone Administrator also confirmed in a statement that the labourers had returned to their homes (archived here).

The post also included images of the freed men.

AFP Fact Check has contacted the zone’s administration for further comment and will update the story accordingly.

We have previously debunked similar posts about Fano capturing government soldiers here and here.

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