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Ethiopia to Investigate HRW Allegations of Migrants Killed by Saudi Border Guards

FILE - In this Friday, Dec. 22, 2017 file photo, Ethiopian Zeynu Abebe, 19, sits in between two others upon his arrival after being deported from Saudi Arabia, at the airport in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Ethiopia will work with Saudi Arabian authorities to investigate a report by Human Rights Watch alleging that hundreds of Ethiopian migrants have been killed by the kingdom's border guards, its foreign ministry said on Tuesday.

Saudi Arabian officials did not respond to a request for comment about the investigation. A Saudi official said on Monday that the allegations made in the report published by rights group were "unfounded."

"The Government of Ethiopia will promptly investigate the incident in tandem with Saudi Authorities," the foreign ministry statement said, emphasizing the strong relations between the two governments.

"It is highly advised to exercise utmost restraint from making unnecessary speculations until investigation is complete," the statement said.

In a 73-page report released on Monday, Human Rights Watch accused Saudi guards posted along the Yemen border of "widespread and systematic" attacks on migrants, who use remote mountain tracks to cross the frontier by foot.

HRW said the guards used explosive weapons to kill some migrants and shot at others from close range.

HRW researcher Nadia Hardman, who compiled the report, told VOA the investigation attempted to provide a visual exposé of the allegations by geo-locating Saudi border guard posts, analyzing over 300 videos and photographs depicting "dead and wounded migrants on the trail" crossing into Saudi Arabia.

"What we've done is really, I hope, put forward a real evidence-based report that found Saudi Arabia can't hide behind," Hardman said.

The European Commission said on Tuesday it would raise the report's findings with the Saudi government and the Houthi authorities in Yemen.

"We welcome the announcement by the government of Ethiopia specifically to investigate the whole issue together with the authorities in Saudi Arabia," commission spokesman Peter Stano told a daily press conference.

Hardman says the HRW investigation also found Houthi authorities in Yemen collaborating with smugglers and traffickers to facilitate access to the border.

She said testimony and evidence from the interviewees also pointed to allegations that Houthi authorities took the migrants to detention centers in Saada, in northern Yemen, and allegedly beat and tortured them.

The U.S. government and the United Nations have called for a thorough investigation.

U.N. officials in 2022 alleged that Saudi border guards were systematically killing migrants last year — an accusation that Saudi authorities strongly denied.

The migration route from the Horn of Africa, across the Gulf of Aden, through Yemen and into Saudi Arabia — one of the richest countries in the Arab world — is a well-established corridor for Ethiopian migrants.

Information for this report came from Reuters. VOA’s Carol Van Dam contributed.