Despite the peace agreement, Eritrean troops are still active in the Tigray conflict
ADDIS ABABA – After months of denials, accusations and counter-accusations, Ethiopia’s government has admitted that a number of Eritrean troops have been actively involved in the war in the Tigray region, likely setting off a debate that has spilled over into serious peace forums.
For months, the UN and other partners have accused Eritrea of being an obstacle to reconciling warring parties in Ethiopia, but Asmara has often been silent on the allegations. Ethiopia has always denied the involvement of Eritrean soldiers in the two-year-old war.
Earlier this month, as the country marked the second anniversary of the outbreak of war, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for the “immediate withdrawal and disengagement of Eritrean troops” from western and eastern Tigray while urging both sides to embrace a ceasefire.
A senior US State Department official confirmed that the recent Nairobi peace accord was “the first acknowledgment that there are Eritrean forces operating inside Ethiopia – and there is now a clear agreement for them to withdraw.”
The talks were first held in South Africa but there was no direct mention of Eritrea’s soldiers’ role in the Tigray war. The latest agreement signed in Nairobi, the official confirmed, spells out the withdrawal of Eritrean forces from Tigray, a process that should start immediately.
The Nairobi agreement calls for the withdrawal of “foreign forces” from Tigray and this apparently refers to Eritrean forces, which had been linked to the massacre that left thousands of people dead and millions displaced from their homes, in a war where children and women are the worst affected.
Isaias Afwerki, the President of Eritrea, has reportedly supported embattled Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed by sending troops to Tigray under the pretext of chasing the Tigray People’s Liberation Front [TPLF]. The Eritrean strongman has been in power since 1993 and is accused of authoritarianism.
Last year, a report published by the UN Special Rapporteur on Eritrea confirmed that the Eritrean troops and their Somali counterparts who were training in Asmara had indeed crossed over to Tigray where they committed serious crimes. However, both Somalia and Ethiopia denied the claims and accused the rapporteur of bias.
This week, and for the second time in as many months, Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud visited the more than 5,000 soldiers undergoing training in Eritrea. The president did not immediately reveal when they are likely to leave but plans are underway to repatriate them to Somalia.
While it was not immediately clear how many Eritrean soldiers have been fighting in Tigray, the TPLF claims the number is “extremely high” but could not disclose. The TPLF has confronted both the Ethiopian National Defense Forces [ENDF] and the Amhara regional militia along with the Eritrean army.
The Nairobi peace agreement was successfully brokered by the African Union’s Horn of Africa envoy Olusegun Obasanjo and Kenya’s former president Uhuru Kenyatta, who encouraged both parties to adopt a ceasefire. The I’m Nairobi meeting brought together senior military officials from both Tigray and Ethiopia.
Already reports indicate that humanitarian teams can access even the remote villages of Tigray, a move that will surely starve. Ethiopia’s government has faced a myriad of challenges, but the Tigray war almost led to its exclusion from the organizations of the international community.