Tigray War: Reports of Massacres By Eritrean Soldiers, Allied With Abiy, In Fighting

PM Abiy

Prime Minister Abiy. From Nobel to war-monger? Photo Wikileaks Common.


There are reports of massacres allegedly carried out by Eritrean soldiers allied to Ethiopia’s leader, against civilians in the Tigray war.


It is now past eight weeks since Ethiopia’s Nobel Peace Prize winning Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed declared war on the regional state of Tigray, part of his own country.


The war really began two years earlier when Abiy Ahmed and Eritrea’s mercurial leader Esayas Afeworki made peace with each other. The reference to a “peace treaty” between the two countries is misleading. The Eritrean dictator closed the borders with Tigray shortly after a brief opening of the borders following the “peace agreement” with Ethiopia. The agreement helped Esayas to emerge from his political purgatory where he was shunned as a pariah.


What brought the two together as subsequent developments now show was their shared hostility to the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF), the organization which held power in that region, and a desire to see it destroyed. The Amhara Regional State which has border disputes with Tigray found a common cause with the two new friends and closed its borders with Tigray State. So Tigray was effectively isolated in an economic blockade.


The war of words between the TPLF and Abiy’s newly created Prosperity Party came to a head when the prime minister postponed the 2020 constitutionally mandated general election, citing COVID-19 as a reason. TPLF then claimed Abiy, who had been a transitional prime minister, no longer had authority and that his rule was illegitimate since elections had not been held.


TPLF went ahead and held its own election in Tigray as required by the constitution, despite the federal government’s objections. The dispute escalated and as fear of imminent war grew, calls from the African Union (AU), the EU, and the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres that the matter be resolved through dialogue were rejected by Abiy. Two weeks into the fighting Abiy rebuffed the mediation effort by current AU President Cyril Ramaphosa whose emissaries are eminent persons, former presidents of Mozambique, Liberia, and South Africa.


The federal government cut off the internet, telephone communications, and electricity in Tigray before the shooting started. Banks were also closed.  An all-out war on Tigray was launched on Nov. 4.  Abiy said the war was in response to the attack by the TPLF on the Northern Command of the National Defense Forces, an alleged raid on a national army garrison that included the killing of soldiers. There was no independent media report on this since reporters have been banned from entering Tigray.


The invasion was carried out on four fronts with troops of the Ethiopian National Defense, the Eritrean Defense Force, the Amhara state special forces, and Amhara militia. Ground attack came after the airstrikes on major Tigrayan cities, targeting the economic infrastructure which in Mekelle included the university and the major teaching hospital. The Ethiopian ground forces entered Humera on South Western Tigray, bordering on Eritrea, Amhara state and Sudan, supported by Amhara Special Forces. The Eritrean Defense forces crossed the border with Tigray on two fronts, according to Mesfin Hagos. Hagos was a founding member of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) and former defense minister of Eritrea. He’s now an opposition leader in exile. He claims there were three Eritrean infantry divisions and two mechanized divisions along with one Ethiopian infantry division on the Adwa front.


On the Zalambessa front, Mesfin Hagos says Esayas deployed seven infantry divisions, two mechanized divisions, and a brigade of commando units. He bases this information from contacts within the Eritrean defense force and opposition intelligence sources.


On the Humera front reports of massacres are rampant. A massacre in Mai Kadra was attributed to TPLF by the Ethiopian Government Human Rights Commission while those who fled to Sudan tell a different story. The UN Human Rights Commission has been asking for an independent investigation by the international body.


UNICEF in its Dec 15 statement says 2.3 million children remain cut off from humanitarian assistance. An estimated 1.5 million are internally displaced and more than 50,000 Tigrayans have fled to Sudan. Incidentally Abiy said there were no children and women refugees. Facts on the ground belie that assertion just as when he said there was no single civilian casualty from the military operation.


The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) is responsible for close to 100,000 Eritrean refugees in Tigray. They have not had access to these refugees. There are reports that the Eritrean troops entered the refugee camps and terrorized them, taking some of them back to Eritrea. Food and medicine is unavailable. The machines at the modern pharmaceutical factory at Adigrat were also stolen by Eritrean troops. Similar stories from other towns are coming to light.


Meanwhile, Michelle Bachelet, the UN Human Rights Commissioner spoke of “artillery strikes on populated areas, deliberate targeting of civilians and extrajudicial killings” in Tigray. She urges Ethiopia to provide “unhindered access to whole of Tigray to protect civilians.”


The complete communication blackout with the exception of Mekelle continues and the campaign has now become a war against the people of Tigray who are victims of collective punishment prohibited by Hague Regulations 1899 and 1907 and by Geneva Convention III article 26 and Geneva Convention IV.  Ethiopia’s own Penal Code (2004) article 270, under the heading-War Crimes against the Civilian Population, makes such crimes punishable by imprisonment or death.


News is slowly trickling out of Adwa from people who managed to make it to Mekelle where telephone service has been restored. Almeda Textiles which employed over 5,000 workers in Adwa has been ransacked with all the machinery dismantled and loaded on trucks to Eritrea, according to the reports. The people speak of Eritrean troops terrorizing the population, going house to house, and looting anything and everything from people’s homes. Even doors, furniture, kitchen and bathroom fixtures, were loaded on commandeered trucks from local merchants and taken to Eritrea.


Shops and private enterprises were ransacked. Farms with crops ready for harvest have been torched. The fate of a beekeeper is emblematic of the level of depraved cruelty to which the Eritrean troops had sunk. They removed the honey for their use and shot at the beehive to make it unusable, thus depriving the family of their livelihood. The people have survived wars from foreign invaders, domestic rulers, and a brutal military regime. Yet they have not seen the level of abuse, large scale looting, and wanton destruction as with the Eritrean troops.


People have not had clean drinking water. No international humanitarian assistance has been allowed through. Hunger and starvation is widely reported by the people who have come to Mekelle. The townspeople are now drinking water from the river exposing themselves to an epidemic of water borne diseases. What happened in Adwa is happening in all the towns the Eritrean troops passed through.


Meanwhile the targeting of Tigrigna speaking residents of Addis Ababa and other major cities in Ethiopia continues. House raids by Police and security agents, confiscation of mobile phones and computers in some cases looting is reported. Some are detained without specific charge. Many have lost their jobs both in and outside government.


The US which has security interests in the region with Ethiopia as an ally and could press Abiy to end hostilities but has not. The ongoing conflict is now spreading in the region, with Amhara state Special Forces battling Sudanese troops at the border.


The full extent of the wholesale destruction of life and property won’t be known until the news blackout is lifted. These are trying times for the people of Tigray. These are trying times for Ethiopia. All friends of Ethiopia, and Africa, must speak out forcefully lest we revisit Rwanda style-atrocities.

Dr. Nurhussein is a retired medical doctor who hails from Ethiopia.

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