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Ethiopia, Eritrea forces detain hundreds in Tigray

May 26, 2021

The Ethiopian government has been accused of "ethnic cleansing" in its military offensive against rebels in Tigray. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has previously said Eritrean troops would leave the region.

Ethiopian army soldiers on a patrol in Tigray
Ethiopian army soldiers on a patrol in TigrayImage: Minasse Wondimu Hailu/AA/picture alliance

More than 500 people were rounded up by Ethiopian and Eritrean military forces in the northern region of Tigray on Monday night, witnesses told Reuters and AFP news agencies Tuesday.

The raid reportedly occurred at four displacement camps in the town of Shire. 

What do we know so far about the arrests?

Amnesty International Researcher Fisseha Tekele said troops beat up the detainees and confiscated their phones before forcing them onto trucks. She said the Tseheye and Adiwonfito camps were among those targeted by the troops. 

The arrests come after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered a military offensive in November against the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), a paramilitary organization and political party based in the region. The army operation in Tigray began after the TPLF attacked federal military bases in the area, which Ahmed has characterized as "treason."

The alleged participation of Eritrean forces in the arrests is noteworthy, as Ahmed has previously said Eritrean troops would withdraw from the region.

For decades, the TPLF had control over the government of Ethiopia, fighting a two-year war and then enduring almost two decades of uneasy peace with neighboring Eritrea.

The Ethiopian military has yet not commented on the reported arrests. Eritrean Information Minister Yemane Gebremeskel dismissed the incident as TPLF propaganda, and asserted Eritrea had no reason to round up internally displaced persons.

Tigrayan official Tewodros Aregai told AFP that the arrests were likely triggered by reports that anti-government forces had infiltrated the displacement camps.

United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken has accused the Ethiopian government of "ethnic cleansing" in its military campaign in Tigray. 

Tigray faces imminent famine, UN official warns

The arrests come as a senior United Nations official told the UN Security Council on Tuesday that Tigray was facing imminent famine unless the region received additional humanitarian aid.

"Today, at least 20% of the population in that area faces food insecurity," UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock told the Council in a note. He said agricultural land and livestock in the region had been decimated since the conflict began last year.

Lowcock said humanitarian operations in Tigray continue to be disrupted, with eight aid workers having been killed in the area in the last six months. He urged the UN to take action to prevent famine in northern Ethiopia. 

wd/msh (Reuters, AFP)