Source: AFP

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed admitted Tuesday that troops from neighbouring Eritrea were present in the conflict-torn Tigray region and suggested they may have been involved in abuses against civilians.

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.

Abiy sent troops into the northern region of Tigray on November 4 after blaming the region’s once-dominant ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), for attacks on army camps.

The military campaign to unseat the TPLF has led to a drawn-out conflict that has seen brutal atrocities carried out against civilians.

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 said that according to the Eritrean government, its soldiers had taken over trenches on the border which had been dug during the 1998-2000 border war between the two nations, after they were abandoned by Ethiopian soldiers.

“Eritrea told us it had national security issues and as a result had seized areas on the border” but had vowed to leave if Ethiopian soldiers returned to the trenches.

He said Eritrea argued the TPLF pushed them to enter the battle “by firing rockets” across the border.

“The Eritrean government has severely condemned alleged abuses and has said it will take measures against any of its soldiers accused of such.”

Europe sending a second mission to Addis

Tuesday, 23 March 2021 20:49 Written by


Source: Addis Standard

Addis Abeba, March 23-2021 – Josep Borrell, High representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the EU Commission, said the block is “ready to activate all our foreign policy tools against those responsible for human rights violations,” in connection with the ongoing armed conflict in Tigray regional state, and that “this applies to all parties to the conflict.”

In a remark issued in Brussles on March 22, Mr Borrell also said that he has “mandated the Finnish Foreign Minister, Pekka Haavisto, to go back to the region on a second mission and express clearly our readiness to act if this situation continues.” The EU wants to “have humanitarian access to the region and we want an independent investigation on human rights abuses and we want Eritrean troops to be withdrawn.”

During his first mission to Ethiopia as EU’s envoy, the Finnish Foreign Minister accused the federal government of being in “denial” over the depth of the humanitarian crisis in Tigray which he said was spiraling “out of control.”

In response, Ambassador Hirut Zemene, Ethiopia’s envoy to Belgium, Luxembourg and EU institutions, said the envoy’s remarks were “regrettable” and do not “reflect the reality on the ground and contain unsubstantiated claims.” Ambassador Hirut also accused Mr Haavisto of showing “no interest to travel to the region, but instead resorted to visit the refugee camp in neighbouring Sudan and extrapolate grossly inadequate information to provide unfounded claims that put unnecessary pressure on the government of Ethiopia.”

Mr Borrell’s remarks yesterday came in the heels of EU Council’s decision to impose travel ban and asset freeze sanctions “on eleven individuals and four entities responsible for serious human rights violations and abuses in various countries around the world”. Among the four entities targeted for sanction is Eritrea’s National Security Office headed by Major General Abraha Kassa with travel ban & asset freeze. The EU said the Office is “responsible for serious human rights violations in Eritrea, in particular arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances of persons and torture committed by its agents.” The security agency is under the supervision of President Isaias Afwerki.

Mr Borrell’s Full Statement

Five months have passed since the beginning of the so-called “law and order operation” against the Tigray region. Since then, we have been receiving daily reports of human rights violations of massive scale including massive rape, torture, a complete blackout, lack of communication, lack of access to humanitarian help for the people of Tigray.

This is an unacceptable situation that pushes us to continue to put pressure for humanitarian access to be allowed, for independent investigations on human rights abuses to be launched and for Eritrean troops to be withdrawn from Tigray.

We are ready to activate all our foreign policy tools against those responsible for human rights violations. This applies to all parties to the conflict. I have mandated the Finnish Foreign Minister, Pekka Haavisto, to go back to the region on a second mission and express clearly our readiness to act if this situation continues. We want to have humanitarian access to the region and we want an independent investigation on human rights abuses and we want Eritrean troops to be withdrawn.


A report from the Arbi Harnet (Freedom Friday) underground network inside Eritrea says that some Eritrean forces have been moved from Tigray into Oromia.

“Our members have the following information on the situation in Tigray.

Thousands of newly trained national service members have arrived in the past 3 days.

There is also disturbing news that some Eritrean army troops are heading to the Oromia region to halt advances by the Oromo Liberation Army (Oneg Shane).

In particular, Eritrea’s 22nd division has been dispatched to Oromia.

Haregot Furzun is the commander of the 22nd division and two of his brigades are in Oromia region now.”

Published MARCH 22, 2021
Updated MARCH 22, 2021

FILE PHOTO: An Ethiopian woman who fled the ongoing fighting in Tigray region, carries her child near the Setit river on the Sudan-Ethiopia border in Hamdayet village in eastern Kassala state. Photo: Reuters
NEW YORK - A dozen top United Nations officials on Monday called for a stop to indiscriminate and targeted attacks against civilians in Ethiopia's northern Tigray region, particularly calling out reports of rape and "other horrific forms of sexual violence."

In a joint statement the officials, including U.N. aid chief Mark Lowcock, rights chief Michelle Bachelet and refugee chief Filippo Grandi, called on the warring parties to protect civilians from human rights abuse, condemn sexual violence and hold perpetrators accountable.

"It is essential that an independent investigation into conflict-related sexual violence in Tigray be initiated, with the involvement of the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights," the statement said.

Fighting between government troops and the region's former ruling party, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes in the mountainous region of about 5 million.

The United Nations has raised concerns about atrocities being committed in Tigray, while U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has described acts carried out in the region as ethnic cleansing. Ethiopia has rejected Blinken's allegation.

The U.N. officials said initial assessments of 106 health facilities in Tigray between December 2020 and March 2021 showed that nearly 70% had been looted, 30% were damaged, and only 13% in Tigray were functional.

"Preventing and responding to the grave human suffering resulting from this conflict will require a concerted effort at all levels," they said. "When it comes to getting aid staff and supplies into Tigray ... much more remains to be done." REUTERS

Source=U.N. calls for stop to 'horrific' sexual violence in Ethiopia's Tigray - TODAY (

Mon, March 22, 2021, 1:21 PM·

(Reuters) – The European Union on Monday imposed sanctions on Eritrea over human rights violations and blacklisted the country’s National Security Office which is tasked with intelligence gathering, arrests and interrogations.

At the beginning of March, the United Nations said Eritrean troops were operating throughout Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region and reports suggested they were responsible for atrocities.

“The National Security Office is responsible for serious human rights violations in Eritrea, in particular arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances of persons and torture,” the EU said after foreign ministers of the 27-nation bloc agreed the measures.

The sanctions mean an asset freeze in the EU. Additionally, individuals and entities in the EU are prohibited from making funds available, either directly or indirectly, to those listed.

Ethiopia and Eritrea have denied the involvement of Eritrean troops in the fighting alongside Ethiopian forces, although dozens of witnesses, diplomats and an Ethiopian general have reported their presence.

Thousands of people have died amid the fighting, hundreds of thousands have been forced from their homes and there are shortages of food, water and medicine in Tigray, a region of more than 5 million people.

The EU is considering imposing further sanctions on Eritrea.

Source=EU slaps sanctions on Eritrea over human rights abuses - Eritrea Hub





The Civil Society Reference Groups (CSRG) calls on H.E. President Uhuru Kenyatta to utilize Kenya’s current positions as the Chairperson of the Peace and Security of the African Union, the East African Community and non-permanent member of the UN Peace and Security Council to mobilize support across the region and the world and intervene in the raging conflict between the Federal Government of Ethiopia and its State of Tigray that has been ongoing since November 2020.

It does not always happen that a country finds herself occupying such an advantageous position as Kenya in the geopolitical landscape yet Kenya is yet to flex her muscle and be seen to be intervening in the crisis in Ethiopia’s Tigray that has now sucked in neighbouring Eritrea and Sudan.

Like the internal war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in which neighbouring countries like Uganda and Rwanda found themselves drawn into, what started as internal conflict in the Tigray State between the regional Tigray People’s Liberation Front and the Federal Government of Ethiopia seems to have already drawn in Eritrea, with the Sudan also steadily staking a claim in a disputed border point with Ethiopia.

Already, the conflict has led to loss of life and limb, with thousands displaced and social amenities like schools and hospitals reportedly vandalized and rendered derelict.

The war is also incurring its toll on Kenya. With the Federal Government of Ethiopia distracted by the conflict, and unable to sustain its watch over the Al-Shabaab as one of the countries that contributed soldiers to AMISOM, Kenya is likely to experience more incursions of the ragtag militia group along its shared border with Somalia.

Persistent migration of swarms of locusts to Kenya from Ethiopia is another indication that the Federal Government of Ethiopia could be paying too much attention to the internal conflict with the Tigray State at the expense of investing in joint efforts to eradicate the plague.

Had Ethiopia been doing its part to interrupt the life cycle of the locusts, the outbreak in Kenya would not have been as voracious and persistent as it seems to be. But because the country is distracted by the internal conflict, Kenya will continue to experience persistent waves of locust invasion.

The threat of the worst ever locust invasion in 70 years to peace and security in Kenya and indeed the entire East and Horn of Africa Region is already being felt in the internecine conflicts over grazing land and water between Isiolo and Wajir and other neighbouring counties of Marsabit, Mandera and Garissa.

The situation has been exacerbated by the effects of climate change that has made weather patterns so unpredictable for the pastoralist communities that unless the conflict in Tigray is stopped and all the countries affected by the menace pay undivided attention to the plague, the ensuing drought and famine will not only decimate livestock as the primary source of livelihood for local communities but become a threat to human life as well.

The humanitarian and human rights crisis that the conflict in the Tigray region continues to cause is unacceptable, and those charged with leadership positions and the responsibility to address them like Kenya can no longer pander to the outdated policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of a member State to the African Union.

Addis Ababa is the seat of the African Union, and as such owes it to Africa to lead by example and avoid fanning conflict with such humanitarian consequences and human rights violations as reports from the conflict seem to show.

As an umbrella organization of local, national and international civil society formations in Kenya that believes in and champions for the right to freedoms of association, assembly and expression, the CSRG, therefore, calls on Kenya to rise up to the occasion based on its positions of responsibility in the East African region, in Africa and globally at the UN Peace and Security Council and not only intervene but be seen to be intervening in the conflict pitting the Federal Government of Ethiopia and its Tigray State.

Everything that ought to be done to stop the conflict in Tigray, including the possibility of imposing sanctions on the two warring parties so that they do not continue to access the arms being used to main in the military combat, killing in the process innocent civilians.

Signed by:

Suba Churchill

Presiding Convener

Civil Society Reference Group


There are two, competing, views of Isaias Afwerki.

The first – put forward by his regime – is of a victorious leader who took his people from the chains of Ethiopian imperialism to the freedom of independence.

This embraces the view that Isaias himself projects of his role as a liberation leader and tough, resilient fighter, who learned his skills during his time in Mao’s China.

Isaias Afweri military training China
It is often forgotten that Isaias Afwerki received military training in China in the 1960’s

The alternative view, while acknowledging Isaias’s skills as an organiser who founded (with others) the EPLF, question his role as a military leader.

They point out that while he took the political leadership, it was his military colleagues, like Mesfin Hagos, who led the actual fighting.

They won critical battles – for example at Battle of Afabet in March 1988, described by the historian, Basil Davidson as the most significant victory for any liberation movement since the Vietnamese victory at Dien Bien Phu.

It was – by any comparison – an extraordinary victory. Some 15,000 Eritreans took on over 20,000 Ethiopians, armed and advised by the Soviet Union. The EPLF won, apparently losing 125 fighters while killing 18,000 of the enemy who were trapped in a valley by a well-planned ambush.

This, and other victories, led to the ecstatic entry into Asmara by victorious Eritrean forces in 1991.

The EPLF fighters appeared invincible – and certainly thought they had no equal in the Horn.

Defeat in the 1998 – 2000 border war

This attitude laid the ground for the catastrophe of the 1998 – 2000 border war with Ethiopia.

It should not be forgotten that this war appeared at one time to be going in Eritrea’s favour, as it inflicted appalling casualties on its Ethiopian foes.

Norbert Schiller
The Battle of Tsorona – March 1999

The May 2000 Ethiopian offensive and the fall of Barentu

In May 2000 Ethiopia launched an attack which broke Eritrea’s resistance. This account is provided by Fiona Lortan of the Pretoria Institute of Security Studies. Her report of the final days of the border war is reproduced at length to remind readers of the scale of the defeat.

“Ethiopia’s May-June 2000 offensive was executed in three phases. On 12 May 2000, two days before Ethiopian elections, Ethiopia launched an attack on the western front across the Mereb-Setit River. Once again Eritrea’s defences were found wanting, and Ethiopian forces penetrated deep into Eritrean territory. Given the fact that Ethiopia had already taken the western front at Badme in February 1999, most military observers had expected that any new attack would most likely be concentrated on the central front. This is where Eritrean forces were concentrated. The surprise element was the stroke of genius in Ethiopia’s military strategy, and partly reflected the important role played by former Dergue officers who had been recalled into the army to help co-ordinate strategy.

“Ethiopia realised that it could not dislodge Eritrean forces in a frontal trench war, and that its previous failed attempts of March 1999 would merely be repeated. Thus, Ethiopia’s strategy was to attack through western Eritrea, where Eritrean defences were weak, and then to threaten the Zalembessa front from the rear.

“On 18 May 2000, within a week of launching its offensive, Ethiopian troops broke through Eritrean defences on the western front, pushing beyond the borders into Eritrea and sending Eritrea’s army into further disarray with a two-pronged attack. By capturing the garrison town of Barentu, Ethiopian troops cut off Eritrea’s supply lines to its troops on the western front and effectively captured the entire south-west corner of Eritrea.

“Eritrea, realising it could no longer hold on to the western front with its supply lines cut, abandoned Barentu in what the Eritrean government termed a ‘strategic retreat’. This was an age-old tactic of the Eritrean army, which had allowed it to remain intact throughout 30 years of struggle against the Ethiopian government — ‘stay alive to fight another day’. The situation this time, however, was very different from a liberation war.

“Having taken the western front, the Ethiopian forces then turned their attention to the central front, moving along the route from Barentu toward Mendefera in a manoeuvre that threatened to trap the Eritrean forces in a pincer movement. Having made this move, Ethiopia threatened Zalembessa from the front, in another pincer movement, forcing Eritrea to withdraw from this most symbolic town.

“Even here, surprise was an important element in Ethiopia’s strategy. Ethiopia attacked on the western flank of the central front, which Eritrea had discounted because of the tough terrain — the ridge rises to 2 854 metres above sea level. For the first time in the war, Ethiopia was able to translate its offensive position into superior mobility, and Eritrea’s static defence was unable to cope.

“Eritrea withdrew from Zalembessa on 24 May 2000, 13 days after Ethiopia launched its offensive. The following day, Isaias issued an all-fronts order to withdraw from the disputed territories. But, despite this withdrawal, Ethiopia refused to stop. Instead, it attacked further into Eritrea on the central front, as well as on the eastern, Bure/Assab front, leading to claims by Eritrea that the border dispute had never been the real issue, but that Ethiopia’s real agenda was to recolonise Eritrea or, at the very least, to capture Assab.

“On 29 May, Isaias issued an all-fronts order to Eritrean forces to withdraw 30 kilometres. This amounted to a capitulation to Ethiopian demands that Eritrea withdraw from all disputed territory before any cease-fire agreement could be considered. Ethiopia announced its withdrawal from western Eritrea on 30 May, claiming it had achieved its military aims of expelling Eritrean forces from the disputed territory. But, this did not herald the immediate end of the fighting, and Eritrea’s claims that Ethiopia’s purported ‘withdrawal’ was, in fact, a response to Eritrea’s regrouping of its forces appeared to be confirmed over the next few days, as heavy fighting occurred at Senafe, on the central front well inside Eritrean territory, and on the eastern front at Bure.

“Despite the regrouping of Eritrea’s forces and a seeming return to military stalemate, Ethiopia clearly had the upper hand politically and diplomatically. Ethiopia’s initial demand in the peace negotiations, that Eritrea withdraw its forces from disputed territories as a precondition to cease-fire and final acceptance of the Framework Agreement, had been achieved through military means which meant that Ethiopia would have to increase its demands in the final peace agreement.

“On 1 June, Ethiopia said it wanted ‘international guarantees’ before it would withdraw from Eritrean soil. Eritrea, meanwhile, scoffed at Ethiopian claims that the war was over, saying a cease-fire was impossible until all Ethiopian forces had withdrawn from its territory. Ethiopia held all the cards, however, and Eritrea, desperate to secure peace, found its bargaining position severely weakened. It could not afford to continue fighting, as this could threaten its armed forces and ultimately its very existence.”

Invincible no longer

Whatever Eritreans thought about the defeat, it was clear that they were no longer invincible. It was a hard lesson, which cost many, many lives.

In the wake of the war there were intense debates inside the ruling party – by this time renamed the PFDJ.

These were led by the G15, which included key party members, who had been by Isaias’s side throughout most of the war of liberation. They included people like Mahmoud Ahmed Sherifo, Haile Woldetensae, Mesfin Hagos, Aster Fissehatsion and Haile Menherious.

Matters came to a head when they released an open letter to PFDJ members in May 2001, accusing President Isaias of stifling debate and not living up to the promises of freedom and democracy that the EPLF had made to the Eritrean people.

This is the public view. But there is another story which goes something like this.

The G15 also challenged Isaias for his role in conducting the war. They accused him of interfering in the work of his top military commanders and of taking direct control of the fighting – something he avoided doing during the war of liberation.

Some go further: saying that it was only when the liberation commanders came out of retirement and re-asserted their role in the fighting that the rout of Eritrean forces was halted and a semblance of order restored.

It is hard to find an accurate assessment of exactly what took place ahead of the May 2000 reversal, but there are some indications.

Undermining Eritrea’s military capability 

This did not happen rapidly but slowly, as President Isaias constantly intervened to manipulate a military that he came to distrust.

Ambassador Andebrhan Welde Giorgis gives this explanation of the defeat in the border war in his book: “Eritrea at a crossroad – a narrative of Triumph, Betrayal and Hope” (2014)

“The overall military balance, in terms of the size of the armed forces as well as surveillance, intelligence, and logistics capability, favoured Ethiopia. Further, several egregious factors undercut the once legendary prowess and combat effectiveness of the Eritrean Defence Forces (EDF), the proud heir of the Eritrean Peoples’s Liberation Army.  These included: inability to professionalise the EDF and modernise its command and control structures, assets, and logistics; rapid turnover of ministers of defence and chiefs-of-staff; decommissioning many capable junior commanders and to remove ‘rebellious’ officers; and dismantling the once illustrious liberation military intelligence apparatus (Enda 72).” page 526

In other words, President Isaias interfered in the role of the military, removing the capable and the challenging ministers and officers, while failing to invest in its ability to change and respond.

Andebrhan then gives concrete examples: “…four different ministers of defence and four different chiefs-of-staff during the short interlude of peace between the liberation of Eritrea and the border war with Ethiopia. In addition, the ministry of defence had to function in makeshift headquarters that moved from one rural location to another. Beyond the destabilising effect of the lack of permanent military headquarters and the frequent reshuffling of ministers and chiefs-of-staff, incessant presidential interference dented the EDF’s unity of command and reduced the minister of defence and the chief-of-staff into mere figureheads without effective power or influence.” [Emphasis added]

The old guard steps forward

It was at this critical juncture, after the fall of Barentu in May 2000, with Eritrean forces being routed on the battlefield, that the old guard – the former commanders who had been sidelined by Isaias – stepped forward.

This is best chronicled by Dan Connell in his book: “Conversations with Eritrean Political Prisoners.” (2005)

In a lengthy interview with Connell, Haile Woldensae ‘Dure’ explained what happened on 12 May, as the scale of the Barentu defeat became apparent.

Haile explained how members of the Eritrean public and administrators had been warning that Eritrean lines had been probed and reconnoitered by Ethiopian intelligence teams, but nothing had been done to counter this. When the Eritrean lines were broken, the troops and the public were “not only surprised but felt that we had been betrayed by the government. And when the retreat from Barentu came, everybody panicked…Almost everybody was saying: ‘Oh, this president should resign. That was a public statement. And even many cares would say this.” (page 116).

At this critical juncture the old-time leadership, many of whom had been sidelined or told to stay at home, voluntarily came to the key command post from which General Sebhat was commanding the war. Isaias was there too. Among those who arrived at the command post were Sebhat Ephrem, Petros Solomon, Ogbe Abraha and Behrane Gebrezghier.

Haile takes up the story. “So when Isaias told them we are retreating from Barentu, they told him: ‘Okay, now we have to sit down and discuss and look at all the different options we have because now it has become very dangerous.'” But Isaias refused – instead retreating to his office. “I don’t want to bother my head with brainstorming,” Haile recalls Isaias as saying. (page 117).

Allegations of Treason

Connell sums up the situation like this: “amid the chaos, the issue of Isaias stepping down arose as one among many military and political options, but [Haile] insists that there was never a group position that could be interpreted as an effort to bring this about. For their part, the president’s supporters argue that these officials not only pushed the idea but that they passed an offer to remove Isaias to Ethiopian officials through American and Italian intermediaries, making this a full-fledged coup plot.”

Connell continues: “The unsubstantiated charge is the basis for insinuations that Isaias’s critics are ‘traitors’. Unfortunately, the details of what transpired during these terrible days are known only to those who were there – many of whom are now in prison. Absent a trial or a public inquiry, it is impossible to know the truth, as is the case with so much of what currently roils the Eritrean community.” (page 10).

With the help of the veteran commanders the Eritrean military regrouped and fought on. The Ethiopian advance, which at one time had threatened Asmara, was halted on the orders of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi (not a decision that was universally popular in Ethiopia.)

It was only on 8 August 2000, two months after a ceasefire came into force, that the issues came before the Eritrean ruling party. They were first discussed by the PFDJ Central Committee and then the National Assembly in September. These debates saw his disillusioned former colleagues attempting to hold Isaias to account for the mistakes he had made by his direct interventions in the military strategy.

For a year there was an intense internal battle inside the PFDJ. In May 2001 the president’s critics – by this time called the Group of 15 or G15 – published an open letter to PFDJ members, accusing Isaias of stifling debate, democracy and damaging the country.

Isaias and his supporters fought back. They accused the critics of treason: of going to the Americans and Italians at the height of the crisis following the Ethiopian breakthrough at Barentu, and offering to topple Isaias as the price for peace. These allegations were made by Alamin Mohammed Said, in an interview in August 2001.

“During that decisive moment when the Eritrean people and their armed forces were putting up heroic struggle in the defence of national unity and sovereignty, these individuals took a defeatist stand. Right after the Eritrean withdrawal from Barentu, these individuals argued that we could not stop the TPLF offensive. Besides, they claimed that the ouster from office of President Isaias, they advocated the resignation of the President. The group went further argued that in case the TPLF succeeded to take control of the country, they would commit atrocities on the people, and hence we should appeal to the United Nations or the USA to assume control over the State of Eritrea.” (page 201 – 202)

In a response on 11 August 2001, the president’s critics (by now the Group of 15 or G15) categorically rejected the allegations. “Not a single individual from the 15 accused said anything like the above. If there is anyone who has evidence that states otherwise, we call on them to present their evidence.”

But it was all too late. President Isaias had mobilised his forces and in dawn raids on the homes of the G15, on 18/19 September 2001, the government arrested 11 of the original group of 15.

Some, like Haile Menkerios and Mesfin Hagos, were out of the country at the time and escaped arrest. They have continued to keep the torch of Eritrean freedom alight. The rest have rotted in Eritrea’s prisons. Never charged, never brought before a court.

This is a Google Earth image of Era Ero, the high security prison in Eritrea where all the journalists and the officials who criticized the president are kept.

The current war in Tigray

The war in Tigray, which erupted in November 2000, is one of many wars which Isaias has waged against his neighbours.

He has – since independence in 1991 – fought with Djibouti, Yemen and Ethiopia, while sending forces into the Democratic Republic of Congo (another disaster) and backing rebel movements in Somalia and Sudan.

War and instability are President Isaias’s modus operandi.

But the war in Tigray is not going well. Despite repeated round-ups of new recruits, which has deprived families across Eritrea of their youth (and some not-so-young) the Eritrean public have been kept in the dark.

No-one outside of Eritrea is under any illusion of the scale and the depth of the Eritrean involvement. The USA, UN, UK and the European Union have all publicly stated that Eritrea troops are inside Tigray and that they have participated in many terrible atrocities. This is confirmed by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

President Joe Biden has sent a close ally, Senator Coons to Addis Ababa. He was welcomed on his arrival today [Sunday] by Ambassador Gebeyehu Ganga, American Affairs D/G of at Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs  and Mr. Feyzel, Chief of Protocol. 

The arrival of Senator Coons underlines what a priority this is for President Biden. As the White House put it:  U.S. President Joe Biden is deeply concerned and highly engaged on the humanitarian situation in Ethiopia, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters. “The president is deeply concerned and highly engaged on this issue,” Psaki said.

The outline of what President Biden is looking for were spelled out by the his Secretary of State, Antony Blinken.

“A cessation of hostilities, the immediate withdrawal of Eritrean forces, and an end to the Ethiopian government’s deployment of Amhara regional forces in Tigray are essential first steps,” Blinken said in a statement. “There needs to be accountability for all those responsible for human rights abuses and atrocities, whether they be in the Ethiopian National Defense Forces, Tigray People’s Liberation Front forces, Eritrea Defense Forces, or Amhara regional forces.”

At the crossroads

The war in Tigray is at a crossroads. Either Eritrean forces will leave Ethiopia or they will not.

The Ethiopian military are already unhappy about their presence on Ethiopian soil. So is the government appointed administration in Tigray. And the Tigrayan elected government and their armed forces are – of course – fighting hard to defeat the Eritreans on the battlefield.

The question is whether the combined pressures from the US and other international partners, together with the situation on the battlefield, will be sufficient to allow Senator Coons to achieve a breakthrough. This would – almost certainly – involve the African Union which has already been attempting to mediate in the Tigray conflict.

Any settlement might leave certain areas (such as Badme and parts of Irob) in Eritrean hands, since these were awarded to Eritrea after the 1998 – 2000 border war by the Boundary Commission. If this is the price of a settlement then there would also be areas of Eritrea that would also have to change hands, since the Boundary Commission awarded them to Ethiopia.

But there is another possibility.

It is that Prime Minister Abiy is so beholden to President Isaias that he cannot (or will not) agree to the American conditions for a settlement. Ethiopia may insist that Eritrean forces should remain inside its sovereign territory, even if this is not stated publicly.

If this happens then the opportunity for peace that Senator Coons offers will have been squandered. The outlook will be grim indeed and predicting the future is next to impossible.

The Ethiopian army (already unhappy about the Eritrean presence) might openly challenge Prime Minister Abiy’s orders. Fighting could erupt between Eritrean and Ethiopian forces. The unity of Ethiopia itself might be undermined and the empire created by Menelik II in the nineteenth century could dissolve.

The other possibility is that Prime Minister Abiy agrees to the American terms and orders President Isaias to withdraw from Tigray. President Isaias will have to decide whether or not to accept this decision. It is hard to see how he could resist.

If Isaias is forced to withdraw then he will have led his nation into yet another defeat.

Thousands of Eritrean lives will have been squandered. Eritrea’s good name has been permanently besmirched by the atrocities they have committed in Axum and so many other towns and villages.

Will President Isaias survive such a reversal? There are already calls for his removal.


Source: New York Times

Credit…Maggie Fick/Reuters
  • March 19, 2021

The calm is deceptive.

A stubbled crater attests to a recent artillery barrage, but with its bustling streets and shops, the highland Ethiopian city of Mekelle has an air of relative peace.

Then the stories start spilling out.

Of the hospital that begins its days with an influx of bodies bearing gunshot or knife wounds — people killed, relatives and Red Cross workers say, for breaching the nightly curfew.

Of the young man who made the mistake of getting into a heated argument with a government soldier in a bar. Hours later, friends said, four soldiers followed him home and beat him to death with beer bottles.

Of a nightlong battle between government forces and local militia fighters in a nearby town and its aftermath, when soldiers returning to collect their dead stormed into nearby homes, firing indiscriminately.

“I’m lucky to be alive,” said Alefesha Hadusha, her head swaddled in bandages, as she gave a whispered account in a hospital ward. Her parents and two brothers were killed instantly in the attack, she said. An X-ray by her bed showed the bullet lodged in her head.

Credit…The New York Times

When Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, began a sweeping military operation in the restive region of Tigray on Nov. 4, he cast his goal in narrow terms: to capture the leadership of the region’s ruling party. The party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, had brazenly defied his authority for months, and then attacked a federal military base.

But four months on, the operation has degenerated into a bitter civil conflict marked by accounts of egregious rights violations — massacres, sexual violence, ethnic cleansing, and fears that starvation is being used a war tactic — that have set off alarm across the world.

In Mekelle, the region’s biggest city, many Tigrayans say they feel that they, not their leaders, are the true targets of Mr. Abiy’s military campaign.

Hospitals are filled with casualties from the fighting that rages in the countryside, many of them terrified civilians arriving with grievous wounds.

Schools house some of the 71,000 people who fled to the city, often bringing accounts of horrific abuses at the hands of pro-government forces.

Credit…The New York Times

A palpable current of fear and resentment courses through the streets, where hostilities between residents and patrolling government soldiers often erupt into violence.

“We don’t say that everything was perfect under the T.P.L.F.,” said Assimee Misgina, a philosophy lecturer at Mekelle University, referring to the Liberation Front. “But this is a war against the people of Tigray. Basically, we are under an existential threat.”

Mr. Abiy, who won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, denies responsibility for any atrocities, and United Nations officials say that all sides including the T.P.L.F. may have committed war crimes.

But the majority of serious accusations have been aimed at government troops and their allies — the ethnic Amhara militias that moved into the western part of Tigray, and soldiers from Eritrea, Ethiopia’s northern neighbor and onetime enemy.

Mr. Abiy’s spokeswoman and the head of an Ethiopian government task force dealing with the crisis in Tigray did not respond to a list of questions or repeated requests for comment for this article.

In Mekelle, captured by government troops on Nov. 28, residents have learned to toe the government line, even if the nearest battleground is 60 miles away.

Restaurants and bars no longer play certain songs in the local Tigrinya language, fearing retribution. A TV station that once broadcast local news now offers the government perspective.

The interim president of Tigray, Mulu Nega, holds court in a luxury hotel where federal soldiers stand guard by the entrance. The internet has been shut down since November.

In late February, when the authorities permitted a rare visit to Mekelle by international reporters, Tigrayans flocked to the hotels where journalists were staying, desperate for news of the outside world — and to tell their own stories.

In the lobby of the Northern Star hotel, Berhane Takelle, the manager of a garment factory, produced a video that showed the remains of his business in Adwa, 100 miles to the north — charred machinery, a destroyed roof and garments strewn across an empty factory floor. It was all that remained, he said, following a series of violent raids by plundering Eritrean soldiers.

“They took everything,” Mr. Berhane said, shaking his head.

At the city’s main hospital, the Ayder Referral hospital, officials said they received the bodies of 250 men, ages 20 to 35, between Nov. 28, when Ethiopian soldiers seized Mekelle, and March 9. Four-fifths of the bodies had gunshot wounds, and the remainder had been injured with knives, said a senior official who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid reprisals.


Credit…Eduardo Soteras/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Most of the attacks appeared to have been carried out by government soldiers, he added.

One morning, three young men gathered in the morgue to identify the body of Getachew Tewolde, 26, the friend whom soldiers beat to death with beer bottles.

The soldiers who killed Mr. Getachew had a day earlier accused him of supporting the opposition. “They said he belonged to the junta,” said Kidanu Gidey, using a euphemism for the T.P.L.F.

But Mr. Getachew was a laborer, not a political leader, his friends said.

Even more harrowing accounts came from outside the city.

The attack in which Ms. Hadusha’s family was killed took place near the town of Abiy Addi, in central Tigray, on Feb. 10.

One 26-year-old man, Berhe, offered a similar account of that day, saying that his brother and seven other men were picked up and taken to a military camp and executed. He asked to use only his first name, fearing reprisals.

A surgeon who treated the wounded showed a photo of a young man with cratered eyes — shot through the temple at close range, apparently in an attempted execution, the surgeon said.

An aid worker with an international group working in that area, speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid compromising the work, confirmed that attacks on civilians had taken place near Abiy Addi on that date.

The violence, the aid worker said, was typical of a conflict where the worst atrocities often occur in the aftermath of battle.

Last month Amnesty International accused Eritrean soldiers of massacring hundreds of civilians in Axum, in northern Tigray, in late November, hours after Tigrayan militants attacked an Eritrean military post in the town.

Credit…Eduardo Soteras/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In western Tigray, American officials found evidence of ethnic cleansing led by ethnic Amhara officials and militia fighters, according to an internal United States government report obtained by The New York Times.

A spokesman for the Ahmara regional government told Bloomberg this week that it was pressing to officially incorporate western Tigray into Amhara.

In late February, Prime Minister Abiy said that he took the “safety, security and well-being of all Ethiopian citizens very seriously” and that he was ready to cooperate with any joint investigation of abuses with “relevant human rights bodies.” On Wednesday, the opening of an investigation was approved by the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

In testimony to Congress last week, the United States secretary of state, Antony J. Blinken, called the situation in Tigray unacceptable and reiterated calls for Eritrean troops to withdraw immediately.

“They need to come out,” Mr. Blinken said.

Mr. Mulu, the interim leader of Tigray, cuts a lonely figure in Mekelle. An ethnic Tigrayan installed by Mr. Abiy nine days into the war, he lives and works from a suite at the Axum Hotel where he is trying to trying to restart Tigray’s war-battered bureaucracy.

Unlike Mr. Abiy, Mr. Mulu does not deny the Eritrean presence in Tigray. And in an interview he said he had initiated his own investigation into reported atrocities.

“It’s not acceptable that people should die like this,” he said. “But we need evidence. We have requested our security forces to investigate it.”

Tigray’s health services, once among the best in Ethiopia, have been ravaged. On Monday, Doctors Without Borders said that dozens of clinics across the region had been destroyed and plundered by soldiers, often deliberately.

Credit…Medecins Sans Frontieres, via Associated Press
Berhanu Mekonnen, head of the Ethiopian Red Cross in Tigray, said in an interview that Eritrean soldiers had killed seven of his workers including a driver who was dragged from his ambulance and shot.

The Red Cross’s fleet of 254 ambulances in Tigray has been reduced to 30, Mr. Berhanu added. Most were seized by soldiers or destroyed in fighting. Those still in use are often hidden behind churches or dense vegetation to prevent Eritrean soldiers stealing them, he said.

The battle is also one of narratives.

The government frequently accuses critics and foreign news outlets of falling for T.P.L.F. propaganda, a charge made by supporters of Mr. Abiy who recently demonstrated in New York outside the offices of The Times.

In Washington a day earlier, a senior diplomat at the Ethiopian Embassy quit his job over the reports of atrocities in Tigray, accusing Mr. Abiy of leading Ethiopia “down a dark path toward destruction and disintegration.”

Inside Tigray, soldiers detained Ethiopian translators and reporters working for four international outlets, including The Times, last month. The men were released without charge days later, but by then most foreign reporters had been forced to leave Tigray.

In such a fraught environment, even massacres are contested.

Mr. Abiy’s officials frequently cite a massacre in Mai Kadra, a town in western Tigray, on Nov. 9, as an example of T.P.L.F. war crimes. Witnesses cited in an Amnesty International report blamed the deaths on Tigrayan fighters.

Credit…Eduardo Soteras/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
But at a camp in Mekelle, eight residents of Mai Kadra said the killings had in fact been carried out by the Fano, an ethnic Amhara militia group with a reputation for brutality, and insisted that the majority of victims were Tigrayans.

Solomon Haileselassie, 28, said he watched the slaughter from his hiding place in a garbage dump. “I saw them cut off people’s legs and arms with axes,” he said.

Fisseha Tekle, Amnesty International’s Horn of Africa researcher, said the group had received credible new evidence of Tigrayan deaths, but stood by the finding that the majority of victims were Amharas.

Restricted access and the “high politicization of violence” make it hard to establish the truth about much of anything in Tigray, Mr. Fisseha added.


Ethiopian general tells diplomats of ‘dirty war’ in Tigray

Source: AFP


Tue, 16 March 2021, 2:28 pm·3-min read
A “dirty war” causing suffering for “defenceless” victims is unfolding in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, a general said in a private briefing with diplomats last week, according to an audio recording of his comments obtained by AFP.

The statement from General Yohannes Gebremeskel Tesfamariam, head of a task force formed in response to the Tigray conflict, represents an unusually stark assessment of conditions in the region, where Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government asserts normalcy is returning.

“This is a dirty war because it’s affecting everything. You don’t see fronts. The cost is immediately to those who are defenceless,” Yohannes said during the March 11 briefing in the regional capital Mekele attended by dozens of diplomats.

“On the atrocities, rape, crime… I cannot give you concrete evidence, but I don’t think we are going to be fortunate to see that such things have not happened.”

He did not indicate which forces might be responsible for “atrocities”.

The audio was authenticated by two people who attended the briefing. The army did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Abiy, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, sent troops into Tigray on November 4 after blaming the region’s once-dominant ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), for attacks on army camps.

A communications blackout made it difficult to verify conditions on the ground for weeks, though access has improved recently for humanitarian organisations and the media.

The March 11 visit to Mekele was the first time most diplomats had any access to the region since fighting began.

But while many expected they would be able to visit a hospital and sites housing displaced Tigrayans, they were told upon arrival that their stay would be limited to a briefing at a hotel.

Abiy declared victory in Tigray in late November after federal forces took Mekele, though TPLF leaders remain on the run and fighting has continued.

In his comments to diplomats, Yohannes suggested he did not see how a military approach alone would end the conflict.

“I know very few and exceptional conflicts or violence — or fightings, let me say — that have ended only by gun. Very few,” said Yohannes, who formerly commanded UN peacekeeping forces in South Sudan.

He said other “mechanisms” would need to be considered, potentially including negotiations and calls for a ceasefire, though he did not put forward a specific proposal himself.

“I believe this is the way out. I don’t think we will escape this process,” he said.

Abiy’s government has repeatedly said TPLF leaders need to be detained and disarmed.

At one point in the briefing, South Sudanese ambassador James P. Morgan questioned why peace talks do not appear to have been pursued so far.

“I don’t know how do you want to bring this situation into an end, because I believe there’s no… attempt of negotiations,” Morgan said.

“My brothers, the Ethiopians, do you want to end this war? Through what means?”

– Orphans and widows –

Residents of Tigray have told human rights groups and journalists of massacres, widespread sexual violence and indiscriminate killings of civilians by security forces.

Aid workers, meanwhile, say the region’s health system has largely collapsed and warn of possible large-scale starvation.

Agezew Hidaru, a member of the interim government in Tigray, told diplomats that out of 226 health centres that existed in Tigray before the war, “not more than 20” were functioning.

Out of 40 pre-war hospitals, only 10 were functioning, he said.

Many of Tigray’s 271 high schools “are totally damaged and looted,” he said, adding that some schools have been used to accommodate around 700,000 displaced people in the region.

The communications and access restrictions have made it difficult to estimate a death toll, and Agezew told diplomats that officials did not have a good figure.

“There are sporadic conflicts here and there. We don’t know how many people will die or have already died, so a large number of widowed, a large number of orphans are expected in the coming some months,” he said.