(Source: Al Jazeera) –
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed admitted Tuesday that troops from neighbouring Eritrea were present during the five-month old conflict in the troubled northern Tigray region and suggested they may have been involved in abuses against civilians.
Abiy said that Eritrean troops had entered along the border because they were concerned they would be attacked by Tigrayan forces, adding that the Eritreans had promised to leave when Ethiopia’s military was able to control the border.
The admission comes after months of denials from Addis Ababa and Asmara, and accusations from rights groups and residents mounted that Eritrean soldiers have carried out massacres in Tigray.
In a wide-ranging speech to parliament, Abiy said the “Eritrean people and government did a lasting favour to our soldiers”, during the conflict, without giving more details.
“However, after the Eritrean army crossed the border and was operating in Ethiopia, any damage it did to our people was unacceptable,” he said.
“We don’t accept it because it is the Eritrean army, and we would not accept it if it were our soldiers. The military campaign was against our clearly targeted enemies, not against the people. We have discussed this four or five times with the Eritrean government.”
Abiy’s comments came after he said atrocities were committed in Tigray, where fighting persists.
It is the first time Abiy appears to acknowledge that serious crimes have taken place in Tigray, home to six million people.
“Reports indicate that atrocities have been committed in Tigray region,” Abiy told lawmakers in the capital, Addis Ababa, earlier on Tuesday.
War is “a nasty thing”, he said, speaking the local Amharic language. “We know the destruction this war has caused.”
Fighting erupting in Tigray after forces loyal to the regional government – the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) – attacked army bases across the region overnight and in the early hours of November 4.
The attacks initially overwhelmed the federal military, which later launched a counter offensive alongside Eritrean soldiers and forces from the neighbouring region of Amhara.
He said soldiers who raped women or committed other war crimes will be held responsible, even though he cited “propaganda of exaggeration” by the TPLF, the once-dominant party whose leaders challenged Abiy’s legitimacy after the postponement of elections last year.
Abiy spoke as concerns continue to grow over the humanitarian situation in the embattled region where the conflict began in November last year when Abiy sent government troops into the region following an attack on federal military facilities.
The federal army is now hunting the fugitive regional leaders.
Abiy accused the embattled region’s leaders of drumming “a war narrative” while the area faced challenges such as a destructive invasion of locusts and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This was misplaced and untimely arrogance,” he said.
The Ethiopian prime minister, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for his efforts to make peace with Eritrea, faces pressure to end the conflict in Tigray as well as to institute an international investigation into alleged war crimes.
The government’s critics say an ongoing federal probe is not enough because the government cannot effectively investigate itself.
On Monday, the heads of nine UN agencies and other officials demanded a halt to attacks against civilians in Tigray, “including rape and other horrific forms of sexual violence”.
In a joint statement, the UN agencies, the UN special investigator on the human rights of internally displaced people, and two umbrella organisations representing NGOs also called on all parties in Tigray to explicitly condemn all sexual violence and ensure their forces “respect and protect civilian populations, particularly women and children, from all human rights abuses”.
UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said on Monday the conflict continues to drive massive displacement, with tens of thousands of people arriving into Shire, Axum and Adwa, most fleeing fighting in western Tigray in the last few weeks.
There are also reports of people uprooted by violence in the northwest and central areas, he said.
Earlier this month, Human Rights Watch reported that Eritrean forces shot dead hundreds of children and civilians in a November massacre in Tigray.
An Amnesty International investigation into the same events detailed how Eritrean troops “went on a rampage and systematically killed hundreds of civilians in cold blood”.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres joined calls for the Eritrean troops to leave Tigray while the UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, urged an investigation into the situation.
(Source: Eritrea Hub) –
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s shift from “law enforcement operation” to “war” in Tigray
It is worth recalling that when the Tigray war began in November 2020, and Prime Minister Abiy denied that it was any such thing. Instead, as he told Ethiopians in a Tweet, the fighting was a “law enforcement operation” that would “wrap up soon”.
Five months later the situation looks rather different, with Abiy accepting that he is engaged in a war in Tigray. “We know the destruction this war has caused,” he said.
(see the Al-Jazeera report above.)
A complaint letter written 22 March 2021 from the Eritrean Embassy in London to Channel 4 Chief Executive shows that the Eritrean government denial of Eritrean troops in Tigray. On the other hand, on 23 March 2021, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed admitted the presence of Eritrean troops in Tigray, and atrocities are committed against civilians.