Eritrea confirms its troops are fighting in Ethiopia’s Tigray
For months, both sides denied Eritreans were involved, contradicting testimony from residents, rights groups, aid workers, and diplomats.
Eritrea has acknowledged its troops are taking part in the war in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region but has promised to pull them out amid mounting international pressure.
The first explicit admission of Eritrea’s role in the fighting came in a letter posted online late on Friday by the country’s information minister, written by its ambassador to the United Nations and addressed to the Security Council.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into Tigray in November last year to disarm and detain leaders of the region’s once-dominant political party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
For months, the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments denied Eritreans were involved, contradicting testimony from residents, rights groups, aid workers, diplomats and even some Ethiopian civilian and military officials.
Top Ethiopia health official alleges ‘sexual slavery’ in Tigray
Abiy finally acknowledged the Eritreans’ presence in March while speaking to MPs, and promised soon after that they would leave.
Friday’s letter from Eritrea said, with the TPLF “largely thwarted”, Asmara and Addis Ababa “have agreed – at the highest levels – to embark on the withdrawal of the Eritrean forces and the simultaneous redeployment of Ethiopian contingents along the international boundary”.
On Thursday, UN aid chief Mark Lowcock told the UNSC that despite Abiy’s earlier promise, there had been no evidence of a withdrawal of Eritrean troops from the region.
He also said aid workers “continue to report new atrocities which they say are being committed by Eritrean Defense Forces”.
Tigray residents have repeatedly accused Eritrean forces of mass rape and massacres, including in the towns of Axum and Dengolat.
Eritrea and Ethiopia blame the conflict on TPLF-orchestrated attacks on federal army camps in early November and describe it as a campaign to restore law and order.
Armed men from Ethiopia’s Amhara region ride on their truck as they head to face the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, in Sanja, Amhara region, near the border with Tigray on November 9, 2020 [File: Reuters]
Hunger ‘crisis’ fears
Abiy declared victory in Tigray in late November after federal forces took the regional capital Mekelle, but the fighting has continued.
The conflict arrived in the middle of the harvest in Tigray and for months humanitarian access was greatly restricted, prompting fears of widespread starvation.
In his comments on Thursday, the UN’s Lowcock said he had received a report of 150 people dying of hunger in one area of southern Tigray, calling it “a sign of what lies ahead if more action is not taken”.
Ethiopian state media on Friday night aired a report denouncing the claim as “false” and “aimed at tarnishing the image of the country”.