Australian nurse trapped in Ethiopian war zone warns the world: Children being drugged to fight on front line
1 Feb 2022
Australian nurse Valerie Browning AM, who has been living in the war-torn Afar desert in Ethiopia for more than 33 years, is warning the world of the atrocities being meted out to women and children where children are being drugged, handed a rifle and pushed onto the front line.
Valerie Browning is desperately trying to help civilians being injured, raped, and even tortured in the civil war tearing northern Ethiopia apart.
The former Australian nurse, who first moved to Africa in 1973 as a 21-year-old and stayed on permanently in 1989, is calling on the world to assist those who are helpless and urgently needing food.
“I am directly behind the front line in the Afar and watching as soldiers as young as 14 are being drugged with marijuana and pushed out stoned to fight other young fit men from government forces,” Ms Browning said.
“The soldiers from the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) and the ruling Ethiopian government have been in conflict for years but it is heart wrenching to see these boys, who should be at school instead are being killed or captured and their dead bodies have hashish on them - sometimes tied to their neck and spare supplies around a leg.
“Long range fire power and Western-made tanks are destroying local villages. The fighting which recently restarted in 'Aba'ala now consumes 5 districts with well over 250,000 people now fleeing in many directions and finding it difficult to reach support.
Ms Browning runs the Afar Pastoral Development Association (APDA) which works to improve literacy for the Afar people, promote maternal and child health, eradicate harmful traditional practices such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and tackle the growing problem of HIV and AIDS. APDA has trained more than 1,000 local health and education workers, and village birth attendants.
“I can confirm that a TPLF female soldier wounded in Gaali Koma was brought to Dubte hospital and shockingly had an 8 month old baby with her. There have been several reports of mothers forced to fight on the frontline with babies strapped to their backs. All this is happening while the world remains silent.
“Rumours abound in this remote countryside that the TPLF are being backed by the USA. While I cannot confirm this we do note that much of the military equipment is marked and labelled in English. There is a tug-of-war in Ethiopia, just as there is in other nations around the world, between the USA, China and Russia all trying to exert influence.
“The best way to help is to broker a peace deal, provide food and water and stop the atrocities. Women with children strapped to their backs should not be armed with submachine guns. Children should not be drugged and pushed into the front line only to be slaughtered,” Ms Browning said.
“I have seen two children blown up by the long-range artillery firing on their house and they are now in Dubte hospital with bodies utterly burnt. Women have told me of being raped.
“In the last few days a woman ran out of the town of Erebti and she told me she made it with seconds to spare with her children and as she looked back she saw TPLF soldiers capturing women and children. Two journalists (French and German) came out a day ago from 'Aba'ala and told me of seeing the massacred bodies of 6 women and their children - they were people displaced from the town of 'Aba'ala and killed in the rural area.
There are many accounts of massacres and extreme brutality - my charity – Afar Pastoral Development Association - has now found the second of the 3 people we lost in Magaale. One is still missing and there is no real news. We continue to look but we are running to assist people now walking up to 6 and 7 days with no food.
In surrounding areas people are in a extremely weak condition and the numbers are growing rapidly - there are at least 5 areas APDA must reach partly by camel to rescue some of the so far 250,000 displaced people - trying to send food that needs no cooking.
“We are in a mighty struggle now to try and rescue these people - other communities gave camels to transport goods and so on. More than 2 million have fled the area and 5 million need food supplied. Why doesn’t the West care?
The huge difficulty is that TPLF are able to perpetuate complete violence with impunity on Afar since the world is totally silent...So much infrastructure too has been destroyed - water reservoirs, clinics, schools, people's houses and so on.
“I want to desperately shine a spotlight here in Ethiopia as this humanitarian crisis explodes,” Ms Browning said.
“Everywhere I turn I see starving women and children, injured civilians and soldiers needing critical care and they are just not getting the help they need. The world has shut its eyes as rebel soldiers storm onwards killing civilians.
“Recently a young mother of 4 children delivered her baby amongst the explosive sounds of artillery in Kalwaan. The stress led her to have a stroke, leaving this poor woman paralysed on her right side with little speech. She was put on a donkey cart to flee. They did not notice her paralysed foot was banging on the wheel and she sustained even further painful injuries.
“The world, including Australia, USA, China, Russia and the UK, needs to bring financial support and stability to the region. All our health institutions around the region have been rendered unusable. We need help! Ms Browning concluded.