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Ethiopia PM admits Eritrean troops were in Tigray

March 23, 2021

It's the first time that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed confirmed Eritrean forces were present during the conflict in Tigray. He also admitted that rape and other atrocities were committed during the fighting.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed
Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed admitted that foreign troops were involved in the conflict in TigrayImage: Phill Magakoe/AFP

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed confirmed on Tuesday that troops from Eritrea were involved in fighting in northern Tigray.

It's the first official acknowledgement of neighboring Eritrea's involvement in the conflict, coming after months of denials and reports of human rights abuses.

What did Abiy say about Eritrean troops?

In a wide-ranging parliamentary address, Abiy said that Eritrean troops crossed the border into northern Tigray after fighting broke out in November last year.

The prime minister said Eritrea was concerned it would be attacked by forces loyal to the then-governing party, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF). The party has long been at odds with Eritrea.

Tigrays rape survivors

"Eritrea told us it had national security issues and as a result had seized areas on the border," Abiy said, adding that Eritrea promised to leave once Ethiopian troops were able to secure the border.

He also said Eritrea argued that the TPLF had pushed them to enter the battle "by firing rockets" across the border.

What did the PM say about rights abuses?

Abiy also acknowledged that human rights atrocities had been committed during the conflict, including rape and looting.

"Battle is destructive, it hurts many, there is no question about it. There has been damage that happened in the Tigray region, notwithstanding the propaganda and lies, information indicates there have been rapes of women and looting of properties."

Abiy did not explicitly name which forces were behind the atrocities, but he appeared to imply that Ethiopian as well as Eritrean forces might have been involved.

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

Abiy also said any member of Ethiopia's troops "who committed rape and looting against our Tigrayan sisters will be held accountable."

However, Tigray's police service told Reuters agency they currently have no ability to investigate the military.

Why is this significant?

Abiy's remarks on Tuesday come after months of denials from the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments that Eritrea was involved in the conflict.

Rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch both released reports documenting brutal attacks on civilians — including the killings of hundreds civilians in the city of Axum, with rights organizations reporting Eritrean soldiers carried out the killings.

What happened in Tigray?

A violent conflict erupted in the semi-autonomous region of Tigray in early November last year, after forces loyal to the TPLF attacked several of Ethiopia's federal army camps in the region.

Humanitarian crisis in Tigray

Abiy then ordered a counter-offensive to unseat the TPLF, which dominated Ethiopia's government for decades before Abiy came to power in 2018.

Some 60,000 refugees fled from Tigray to neighboring Sudan. An exact death toll in the region remains unknown.

The United Nations has sounded the alarm about atrocities committed during the conflict, while the US has described the acts as ethnic cleansing — which Ethiopia firmly denies.

rs/aw (AFP, Reuters)