Eritrea and Ethiopia cooperate: deployment against Tigray

Reports of an Eritrean offensive fuel concerns about an escalation of the war in the Ethiopian region of Tigray.

Soldiers on a truck

May 8, 2021: Ethiopian government soldiers north of Mekelle Photo: Ben Curtis/ap

BERLIN taz | Eritrea is said to have once again intervened in the war that Ethiopia’s central government has been fighting since 2020 with the renegade rulers in the Tigray region bordering Eritrea. The ruling TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front) in Tigray said on Tuesday that a “major offensive” by the Ethiopian and Eritrean armies had begun in the morning “to bring the Tigray army to its knees once and for all and wipe out our people”. In this “genocidal war” were “regular army units from all over Ethiopia, Amhara special forces, Fano (Amhara Territorial Militias, ed.) and mobilize the entire army and reserve force of Eritrea”.

While Eritrea and Ethiopia’s governments have not commented on the matter, Mike Hammer, US special envoy for the Horn of Africa, confirmed on Wednesday night that the US is monitoring Eritrean troop movements and considers them to be “extremely worrying”. “The presence of Eritrean troops in Ethiopia only serves to complicate things and fuel an already tragic situation,” he said. Other countries such as Canada also condemned the alleged intervention by Eritrea.

Eritrea was already involved when Ethiopia’s army took control of Tigray in November 2020 after the TPLF regional government broke with the central government. At the time, Eritrean soldiers were held responsible for war crimes against civilians, including those fleeing the Eritrean military dictatorship in camps in Tigray.

Eritrea’s government has historically been at enmity with the TPLF from the time when the two countries fought a bloody border war between 1998 and 2000 that left over 70,000 dead. At the time, the TPLF set the tone in Ethiopia’s government. Only under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who does not belong to the TPLF and has been in power since 2018, were the two governments reconciled – and the TPLF in Tigray remained as their common opponent.

All males under 55 drafted

Fighting in Tigray resumed on August 24th. On 11 September, the TPLF agreed to accept African Union (AU) peace mediation. Ethiopia responded to this last week Air raids on Tigray’s capital, Mekelle.

Reports of a general mobilization in Eritrea have been circulating since the weekend. The BBC monitoring service for the local Tigrinya language reported on Saturday that for the past two days all men under the age of 55 have been drafted – Eritrea has universal conscription. Reservists in several cities were instructed via public notices and embassies to report for duty and bring blankets and water containers. Convoys headed for the Ethiopian border were reported. Eritrea’s government told the BBC report that only a “tiny number” of reservists had been called up.

Ironically, in the week of the UN General Assembly, Eritrea’s actions, if confirmed to the extent alleged, represent a clear escalation. Eritrea belongs to the small group of UN member states that support Russia in the war in Ukraine, and accuses the United Nations hostility for years.

Ethiopia’s government is also making a front against the UN these days. She reacted with outrage to the report published on Monday by a UN commission of inquiry into war crimes in the Tigray War. The report by the three UN experts from Kenya, the USA and Sri Lanka, commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council at the end of 2021, names “extrajudicial executions, rape, sexualised violence and starvation of the civilian population as methods of warfare”.

The report accuses both sides of crimes — the TPLF killings in the summer 2021 advance into Ethiopia’s heartland, Ethiopia’s “systematic denial” of humanitarian aid to Tigray’s civilians, among other things. Since the Ethiopian government has not allowed the group to leave the capital, Addis Ababa, further investigations are needed.

There is “not a single piece of evidence” for the allegations, said Ethiopia’s UN Ambassador Zenebe Kebede in New York and rejected the report as “contradictory and partisan”. On Twitter, Abiy Ahmed’s security adviser Redwan Hussien complained that the UN report was even worse than CNN reports, “confused and erroneous”.

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