Amidst the ongoing armed conflict between the Ethiopian government and rebel group Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the United States has directed the Eritrean government to withdraw its security forces from the conflict zone. It is important to mention that Ethiopia has denied any presence of Eritrean troops in the region, although credible reports estimate their numbers to be in thousands.
According to the spokesperson of the State Department, the United States has expressed grave concerns after witnesses reported human rights violations, loot, sexual assault and killing in the Tigray region. The US is concerned that the Eritrean forces are reluctant to leave the region.
On Thursday, IT Minister of Eritrea responded to concerns raised by US ambassadors to Ethiopia. He said, “The allusion by these ambassadors to potential territorial war between Eritrea and Ethiopia can only be disingenuous in content and vicious in intent.” Eritrea had emphasised that the concerns were ‘provocative’ and ‘ill-intentioned’ in nature.
The impact of conflict in the Tigray region
Following the military intervention of the Ethiopian government under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed against Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the Tigray region has become an isolated territory with only limited access to humanitarian workers. The conflict zone is home to 6 million people and concerns have been raised about the growing starvation and shortage of food and other essential supplies.
While speaking about the situation, Ato Abera Tola, President of Ethiopian Red Cross Society said, “There is no area which is not affected by this conflict … the conflict is everywhere.” With no access to journalists, it is difficult to verify assertions made by the government or the armed rebel group.
Debretsion Gebremichael, a fugitive rebel leader, said in a purported audio clip, “Many have paid and many are continuing to pay the ultimate sacrifice…They are carrying away what they can and burning what remains.” He asked residents of Tigray to continue the ‘struggle’ against those threatening their identity and existence. He also reiterated allegations of torture, rape and murder against the Ethiopian government.
How the Tigray conflict began
Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed, ordered a military offensive against the TPLF after an attack on one of its military bases early in November. Ahmed accused the rebels of being responsible for the attack which resulted in the capture of the military base by the rebels. A state of emergency was declared in the country for six months.
Ahmed said that the attackers “tried to loot” military assets, asserting that “the last red line had been crossed”. “The national defence force that has been in the bunkers for the past 20 plus years defending its people and the country by paying heavy sacrifices with its blood and flesh, has been attacked, this evening in Mekelle and many other places, by traitors and the force they organised,” he said in a televised address.
During its initial years, the TPLF had a Marxist ideological bent but later, it moderated itself and claimed to be pro-democracy. Since 1991, after overthrowing what it labelled as a dictatorship, the TPLF and others formed a coalition government that ruled Ethiopia until 2018.
In 2018, however, another coalition, the Prosperity Party, assumed power after the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front Chairman under Abiy Ahmed unified the constituent parties into a new coalition. The TPLF did not accept the merger and called it illegal. Amidst the ongoing fight, the government has claimed to taken two key towns from the rebels in Northern Tigray.