By Giulia Paravicini and Katharine Houreld
ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) -Eritrean and Ethiopian soldiers forcibly detained more than 500 young men and women from four camps for displaced people in the town of Shire in the northern region of Tigray on Monday night, three aid workers and a doctor told Reuters.
The soldiers arrived at around 11 p.m. and loaded hundreds of people onto trucks, the humanitarians and the doctor said, citing witnesses' accounts. Several men were beaten, their phones and money confiscated, one of the aid workers said.
One man who lives in one of the camps, and hid during the incursion, said soldiers broke in and beat men with sticks.
"The soldiers surrounded our camp at night, broke the main gate and started to beat every man using sticks, they hit a 70-year-old and kidnapped a blind one. Only from our camp, Tsehaye elementary school, 400 (people) were taken," he said, requesting anonymity for fear of reprisals.
Ethiopia's military spokesman, the head of a government task force on Tigray and the Tigray regional head did not return messages seeking comment. Tewodros Aregai, interim head of Shire’s northwestern zone, told Reuters he had few details but confirmed "hundreds" had been taken.
Eritrea's Information Minister, Yemane Gebremeskel, said he saw no reason to "round up IDPs" and described the claims as propaganda by the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), the region's former political party, which has been fighting the federal government since November.
Thousands of people have been killed since the conflict erupted, 2 million have been forced from their homes and 91% of the population of nearly 6 million are in need of aid, according to the latest report by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
On Tuesday morning, dozens of relatives of those taken protested in front of the offices of the U.N. refugee agency, according to footage viewed by Reuters.
Monday's incident comes two months after the March 26 announcement by Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed that Eritrean soldiers would leave Tigray after repeated reports of major rights abuses, including looting, gang rapes, and mass killings of civilians.
The Eritreans deny any rights abuses. The United States has repeatedly called for the Eritreans to withdraw.
The town of Shire hosts hundreds of thousands of people who have fled western Tigray, which is now being administered by the neighbouring Amhara region. Ethnic Tigrayans say they are being driven out by Amhara forces.
(Editing by Giles Elgood)