By Martin Plaut
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, determined to use every available force in an attempt to crush the Tigrayan resistance, has reportedly turned to former Tigrayan fighters who were trained and armed by the Eritrean government.
These fighters belonged to the Tigray People's Democratic Movement [TPDM] - known as Demhit in Tigrigna.
Former members of the TPDM have been instructed to assemble in Mekele. Transport has reportedly been sent to collect them from as far as Humera on the Sudanese border.
They are apparently being promised cash and positions in the Prime Minister's party - the Prosperity Party.
When the Tigray war broke out in November 2020 many members of the Tigray opposition, including former TPDM members, joined the Tigray Defence Force to resist the attack on their homeland.
Those members of the TPDM who did not join the resistance are now being recruited by the government, but some have spoken out, saying they don't believe this is a genuine offer from the prime minister.
Members of TPDM returned to Tigray after Abiy Ahmed came to power in 2018 and a the peace deal between Eritrea and Ethiopia was signed.
While in Eritrea the TPDM were reportedly used by President Isaias to provide security in and around Asmara.
In September 2015 the Sudan Tribune reported that General Mola Asgedom, who led TPDM, had crossed into the Sudan, arriving in the border town of Hamdait.
It was reported that Asgedom escaped to Sudan after armed clashes broke out with the Eritrean army on the outskirts of the Eritrean city of Omhajer. Asgedom and 683 of his supporters crossed into Sudan and handed over their weapons to the Sudanese authorities.
General Mola Asgedom subsequently crossed into Ethiopia and was interviewed about his experiences in Eritrea on Ethiopian television.
Below is a background article on the TPDM by Global Security.
The Tigray People’s Democratic Movement [TPDM] remained the most significant Ethiopian opposition group being trained, financed and hosted inside Eritrea as of 2015. The UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea. reported extensively on the continued support by Eritrea for TPDM in violation of paragraph 15 (b) of resolution 1907 (2009) (see S/2014/727 and S/2012/545).
TPDM, also known by its Tigrinya acronym “Demhit”, is an armed Ethiopian opposition group founded in 2001 by dissidents from the Ethiopian ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. TPDM says on its website that its aim is “to establish a popular democratic government of Ethiopia where the rights of nation and nationality are respected”. In 2014, the UN Monitoring Group found that TPDM was being trained on Harena, an island in the Red Sea off the eastern coast of Eritrea, as well as in smaller military training outposts close to the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea.
Moreover, in 2014, the Group reported that TPDM had become the most important Ethiopian opposition group inside Eritrea, with a dual function as an Ethiopian armed opposition group and a protector of the current regime. Its fighters, who hail from the same ethnic group as the President, are seen to be personally loyal to him. The support of Eritrea for TPDM appears to be more sustained and organized than its support for other Ethiopian armed groups (see S/2014/727).
In its report of June 2015, the commission of inquiry on human rights in Eritrea noted the presence of TPDM in Eritrea and reported its role in round -ups against Eritrean citizens who had failed to report to their national military (A/HRC/29/CRP.1, para. 1213). The findings were echoed by Europe-based activists in contact with Eritreans inside Eritrea who told the UN Monitoring Group that TPDM foreign fighters were involved in sweeps to round up people for conscription as recently as February 2015.
The Government of Eritrea facilitated and supported a move to unite a disparate group of armed Ethiopian opposition groups ahead of the Ethiopian general election that was held on 24 May 2015. The Group also received reports that a conference bringing together a number of Ethiopian opposition groups was held in western Eritrea. During the meeting, the groups, which included TPDM, the Patriotic Front, Ginbot Sebat and Arbegnoch, agreed to unify politically and militarily. The level of success and internal cohesion of the newly formed group is unclear.