NAIROBI, Kenya -- Rape has occurred "conclusively and without a doubt" in Ethiopia's embattled Tigray region, the country's minister for women said in a rare government acknowledgement of the toll on civilians during 100 days of fighting.
The minister, Filsan Abdullahi Ahmed, issued the statement late Thursday after a task force visited Tigray to investigate accounts of sexual assault in a region of some 6 million people that remains largely cut off from the world.
"We await the investigation of these horrible crimes," the minister said, adding that a team from the attorney general's office is processing the information. She did not say how many rape accounts the task force members collected or what parts of the region they visited.
A spokesman for the attorney general's office did not immediately respond to questions.
The minister's statement came hours after the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission in a new report said 108 rapes had been reported to health facilities in the past two months in the Tigray capital, Mekele, and the communities of Adigrat, Wukro and Ayder.
"Local structures such as police and health facilities where victims of sexual violence would normally turn to report such crimes are no longer in place," the report said.
"Hence, there is a possibility that the actual number of cases might be higher and more widespread than the reported cases."
Several witnesses have spoken about alleged rapes by Ethiopian soldiers or those from neighboring Eritrea, an enemy of the fugitive Tigray leaders and whose presence Ethiopia's government denies.
Last month the United Nations special representative on sexual violence in conflict said "serious allegations of sexual violence" had emerged in Tigray, while women and girls face shortages of rape kits and HIV drugs amid restrictions on humanitarian access.
"There are also disturbing reports of individuals allegedly forced to rape members of their own family, under threats of imminent violence," Pramila Patten said in the U.N. statement.
"Some women have also reportedly been forced by military elements to have sex in exchange for basic commodities, while medical centers have indicated an increase in the demand for emergency contraception and testing for sexually transmitted infections."