Eritrea admitted for the first time the participation of its forces in the ongoing war in northern Ethiopia, months after it was denied involvement.
“The soldiers will now be withdrawn from the Tigray region. They were deployed there to support the military operation by the Ethiopian army against the former ruling party in the Tigray region, known as the Tigray People’s Liberation Front,” said Eritreas ambassador to the United Nations, Sofia Tesfa Mariam.
The ambassador denied the accusations against the Eritrean forces of carrying out mass killings and rape, describing them as heinous accusations.
This recognition on the part of Eritrea comes at a time of mounting international pressure on it to withdraw its forces from the Tigray region.
The first explicit recognition of the Eritrean role in the fighting came in a letter posted on the Internet by the Eritrean Information Minister, written by the Eritrean ambassador to the United Nations and addressed to the UN Security Council.
The Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops to the Tigray region last November in order to arrest and disarm the leaders of the political party that once dominated the region, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.
For months, the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments denied the Eritreans had been involved in the war, in contradiction to testimonies from residents, human rights groups, aid workers, diplomats and even some Ethiopian civil and military officials.
Abe finally acknowledged the Eritrean presence in March while speaking to lawmakers in Parliament, and shortly thereafter pledged to leave the Eritreans.
The Eritrean message, published on Friday, said that with the “major” defeat of the TPLF, Asmara and Addis Ababa had “agreed at the highest levels – to initiate the withdrawal of Eritrean forces and the simultaneous redeployment of Ethiopian units along the international border between the two countries.”
Mark Lowcock, the official for relief affairs at the United Nations, told the Security Council on Thursday that despite Abe’s previous promise, there was no evidence of a withdrawal of Eritrean forces from the region.
He said aid workers “continue to report atrocities that they say were committed by the Eritrean Defense Forces.”
For his part, Eritrean Information Minister Yamani Gebremeskel said in a tweet on Saturday that Asmara had summoned the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Eritrea and the local head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, to protest against “stray practices and misleading reports … based on networks or ambiguous entities.” Linked to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. “
Tigrayans have repeatedly accused Eritrean forces of committing mass rape and massacres, including in the cities of Axum and Dingolat.
Eritrea and Ethiopia blame the outbreak of the conflict on the coordinated attacks of the TPLF on federal army camps in early November, describing the war there as a campaign to restore law and order.
The Eritrean ambassador to the United Nations reiterated this position in her letter Friday.
“We are certainly shocked at the attempts to blame those who had to resort to legitimate measures in self-defense that would have been taken by other countries under similar circumstances,” she wrote in her letter.
“The allegations of rape and other crimes against Eritrean soldiers are not only heinous, but are also a brutal attack on the culture and history of our people,” she said.
Fears of a famine crisis
Abe had declared victory in Tigray in late November after federal forces captured the provincial capital, Mikkeli, but the TPLF pledged to continue the fight and the fighting was still ongoing.
The conflict took place in the middle of the harvest in Tigray and for months the entry of humanitarian aid was restricted, raising fears of widespread famine.
United Nations relief official Mark Lowcock said in his remarks Thursday that he had received a report about 150 deaths from starvation in one region south of Tigray, describing this as “an indication of what will come if no further measures are taken.”
On Friday evening, Ethiopian state media broadcast a report condemning these allegations, describing them as “false” and “aimed at tarnishing the country’s image.”
“The humanitarian aid provided in the Tigray region is running well and so far, not a single person has died of hunger,” Mitiko Kasa, head of the National Disaster Commission in Ethiopia, was quoted as saying.
However, Abadi Jeremai, an agriculture official in the transitional administration appointed by Abe in Tigray, warned of a famine “crisis” if agricultural activities were not resumed.
“If we do not start harvesting the harvest as of this year, a very difficult problem may occur and may last from three to five years,” Abadi told the pro-state Fana Radio Foundation.