World Tigray: Eritrea engaged in the fighting despite denials
What a blind man's death says about Ethiopia's conflict
Asmelash Woldeselassie has given his eyesight, left arm and now his life to a succession of wars in Tigray.Having joined the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) around the time of its formation in 1975, Asmelash lost his eyesight when he was bombed in his hideout in the Imba Alaje mountain during the war that ended with the guerrilla movement marching into Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, to seize power from the notorious Mengistu Haile Mariam regime in 1991.
In Ethiopia, the fighting continues in some areas of Tigray province, access to which is still prohibited to the press. Despite official denials, a senior Ethiopian officer and civilian administrator have publicly confirmed that Eritrean troops are well engaged in the fighting against what remains of the TPLF, the dissident party that ruled the province until November. And it seems that they play an important role in the war.
In the eyes of independent observers of the Tigray War, the Eritrean commitment is beyond doubt. "Asmara's army controls the towns of Adoua, Shire and Adigrat, as well as the roads and suburbs of Mekele," said journalist Amanuel Ghirmai of Radio Erena, relying on military sources and testimonials from residents. He adds that he spoke with families in Eritrea, among them soldiers wounded in Ethiopia and treated in hospitals in their native country.
Eritrean refugees caught in crossfire of Ethiopia's Tigray war
They have survived gun battles, attempted abductions, attacks by angry militiamen and days-long treks to safety with nothing to eat but moringa leaves. Yet Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia fear their suffering may not be over, as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed strains to end a brutal conflict in the northern region of Tigray that has rendered them uniquely vulnerable. Nearly 100,000 refugees from Eritrea, an oppressive, authoritarian nation bordering Ethiopia to the north, were registered in four camps in Tigray when fighting erupted in November between Abiy's government and the regional ruling party, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF).
“Along the border, the disputed towns of Badmé and Zalambessa are also under the control of the Eritreans,” confirms Norwegian researcher Kjetil Tronvoll, from the University of Bjorkness. Residents are being given a choice, he adds: accept an Eritrean identity card or flee their homes. Men of gun-bearing age are often shot, he said. Eritreans have committed "war crimes and crimes against humanity," he concludes. The only question is whether we can qualify some of them as acts of genocide.
These two observers echo numerous other testimonies reporting killings and looting committed by Eritrean troops in Tigray, while the Ethiopian authorities are content with brief denials. For them, the Eritrean president's war goal is however clear: destroyand permanently weaken Tigray. “Issaias Afeworki accuses the TPLF of having prevented the development of Eritrea for twenty years,” explains Kjetil Tronvoll. Today is his revenge. "The proof, according to Amanuel Ghirmai: the destruction of hotels and factories by Eritrean soldiers that we have seen in Tigray," he explains, "is an exact replica of the destruction committed by the Ethiopian army in the Eritrean towns of Barentu, Senafe or Tessenei, during the 1998-2000 war ”.
Ethiopia: ousted president of Tigray calls to arms in an unauthenticated recording
© EDUARDO SOTERAS Debretsion Gebremichael, president of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) in Mekele, regional capital of Tigray on January 4, 2020 Un Tigrayan online media broadcast on Saturday evening an audio recording attributed to the deposed president of the Ethiopian region of Tigray (North), Debretsion Gebremichael, overthrown by the federal army in November, in which he calls on the Tigrayans to armed struggle.
Frustration in the Ethiopian ranks
The destruction operations are "too well organized, too well orchestrated to be the work of isolated elements", adds the academic Kjetil Tronvoll, who was in Tigray just before the outbreak military operations. "The soldiers have orders and the orders come from above, from Issaias Afeworki in person," adds journalist Amanuel Ghirmai, who worked for the Ministry of Defense before fleeing his country.
For Ethiopia, which is also engaged on other fronts on the border with Sudan or in the state of Benishangul-Gumuz, the Eritreans seem irremovable today in Tigray, say the two men. There is a certain level of frustration in the Ethiopian army, they both explain, as revealed by statements by Ethiopian General Belay Seyoum at the end of December, according to whom Eritrean troops intervened in the conflict "uninvited". . Or those of Mekele's acting mayor, Ataklti Haileselassie, who said in a video earlier this year that the Ethiopian government "is now working to get them out of the region quickly."
This does not seem to be Eritrea's will. “In Tigray today, concludes Amanuel Ghirmai, it is Issaias Afeworki who dictates his law. "
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