IN Ethiopia - tragically a war is taken out on women. Rape is being used as a weapon as fighting rages in northern Ethiopia.

Mona Lisa lay on hospital bed in Mekelle, the main city in war-torn northern Ethiopia, her body devastated but her defiance on display.

Named for the iconic painting, the 18-year-old Ethiopian high school graduate had survived an attempted rape that left her with seven gubshiot wounds and an amputated arm. She wanted it to be known that she had resisted.

''This is ethnic cleansing,'' she said. ''Soldiers are targeting Tigrayan women to stop them from giving birth to more Tigrayans.''

Her account is one of hundreds detailing abuses in Tigray, the mountainous region in northern Ethiopia where a grinding a civil war has been accompanied by a parallel wave of atrocities including widespread sexual assault targeting women.

A senior United Nations official told the Security Council last month that more than 500 Ethiopian women had formally reported sexual violence in Tigray, although the actual toll is most likely far higher, she added. In the city of Mekelle, health workers say new cases emerge every day.

The assaults have become a focus of growing international outrage about a conflict where the fighting is largely happening out of sight, in the mountains and countryside. But evidence of atrocities against civilians - mass shootings, looting and sexual assault - is everywhere.

After months of increasingly desperate pleas for international action on Ethiopia, led by senior United Nations and European officials, the pressure appears to be producing results.

President Biden recently sent an envoy, Senator Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware, to Ethiopia for talks with Ethiopia's prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, that last five hours.

Addressing the Parliament, Mr. Abiy publicly acknowledged that sexual assault had become an integral part of a war that he once promised would be swift and bloodless.

''Anyone who raped our Tigrayan sisters, and anybody who is involved in looting, will be held accountable in the court of law,'' Mr. Abiy told lawmakers, appearing to implicate his own soldiers.

''We sent them to destroy the jaunta, not our people.''

The ''jaunta'' is a reference to the Tigray People's Liberation Front, known as T.P.L.F., which governed Tigray and now fights under the banner of a new group, the  Tigray Defense Forces.

The World Students Society thanks author Declan Walsh.


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