Senior Ethiopian security officials have held talks in Eritrea with Ethiopian rebels.
Rebels of the Tigray People’s Democratic Movement were previously named in UN reports as having been responsible for crushing dissent in Eritrea, as well as attacking the Ethiopian government.
As a UN report in 2014 put it:
TPDM had become the most important Ethiopian opposition group inside Eritrea and it had a dual function as an Ethiopian armed opposition group and a protector of the Afwerki regime. Its fighters, who are from the same ethnic group as President Afwerki, are seen to be personally loyal to him, unlike the defence forces whose loyalties have been questioned by the President in recent years. This is seen to be particularly relevant after the failed attempted “Forto” army mutiny confronting the Eritrean regime on 21 January 2013.
See the full report below.
The TPDM was also accused of participating in the round-up of national service conscripts inside Eritrea.
Eritrea’s Information Minister has announced that talks have been held between the Tigray People’s Democratic Movement (TPDM) and Ethiopia’s Director of Intelligence, General Adem Mohammed.
To put this in context it is worth reviewing what the UN Monitors said about the TPDM – also known by its Tigrinya acronym“Demhit”.
This is what the UN Monitors said in their 2012 report about links between the TPDM and the Eritrean government.
Tigray People’s Democratic Movement
51. Eritrean support to TPDM (commonly known as Demhit) continued throughout 2011 and 2012. A former Eritrean military instructor who personally trained members of the group told the Monitoring Group that Demhit was mainly based out of Harena, but also operated from a number of smaller camps, including Een, as well as temporary positions along the Ethiopian border. Former members of Eritrean army commando units also told the Monitoring Group of havingencountered members of Demhit during training at Sawa and Me’atr camps (see annexes 1.1.b. and 1.1.c. for aerial views of Harena and Sawa respectively).
52. In addition, several former Eritrean military sources independently told the
Monitoring Group that in early 2012, Demhit’s own instructor cadre staff was moved to a smaller camp closer to the Ethiopian border, about 25 kilometres south-east of Harena. The Monitoring Group interviewed former Eritrean military trainers and officers in charge, who confirmed that when Ethiopian forces raided locations in Eritrea in mid-April 2012, they specifically targeted both main Demhit bases, including Harena.
Tigray People’s Democratic Movement
70. The Monitoring Group received multiple corroborating testimonies that Eritrea
continues to support the Tigray People’s Democratic Movement (TPDM), in violation of paragraph 15 (b) of resolution 1907 (2009)
71. TPDM, also known by its Tigrinya acronym “Demhit”, is an armed Ethiopian
opposition group founded in 2001 by dissidents from Tigray People’s Liberation
Front (TPLF) of Ethiopia. TPDM says its aim is “to establish a popular democratic
government of Ethiopia where the rights of nation and nationality are respected”.
72. The Monitoring Group has previously reported on Eritrea’s support for TPDM
(S/2012/545). In 2012, the Group found that TPDM was being trained in Harena, a
Red Sea island off the eastern coast of Eritrea, as well as in smaller military training
outposts close to the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea. The Monitoring Group
obtained information that TPDM continues to be trained in Harena (see annex 7.1
for a map with the location of Harena).
73. TPDM regularly issues publicly available videos in which it affirms its
commitment to taking up arms against the Government of Ethiopia. It is, however,
difficult to verify information about military confrontations between TPDM and the
Ethiopian army. A member of an NGO in contact with TPDM leaders told the
Monitoring Group that he was informed of clashes in Benishangul, near the Amhara
region of Ethiopia, in November of 2013. A former Eritrean general with active
contacts inside the Eritrean military also told the Monitoring Group about an armed
clash between the Ethiopian military and TPDM in the fall of 2013. Moreover, the
Monitoring Group received information that TPDM had participated in an armed
crackdown on internal dissent inside Eritrea at the end of 2013.
74. Independent sources with relationships in the Eritrean military and with the
Movement’s own leadership have told the Monitoring Group that TPDM had
become the most important Ethiopian opposition group inside Eritrea and it had a
dual function as an Ethiopian armed opposition group and a protector of the Afwerki
regime. Its fighters, who are from the same ethnic group as President Afwerki, are
seen to be personally loyal to him, unlike the defence forces whose loyalties have
been questioned by the President in recent years. This is seen to be particularly
relevant after the failed attempted “Forto” army mutiny confronting the Eritrean
regime on 21 January 2013 (see S/2013/440). The Monitoring Group estimates that there currently are tens of thousands of TPDM fighters. Two former senior Eritrean officials and a former Eritrean general, all of whom are in contact with officials in the military and Government, have told the Monitoring Group that Eritrea’s support to TPDM appears to be more sustained and organized than its support for other Ethiopian armed groups. A
source with direct contacts within the leaderships of a number of armed groups described the TPDM as appearing to have “far more fighting capacity” than other
76. The Monitoring Group also received information from two sources with active
contacts inside EDF that weapons in the logistics department of EDF are being
systematically transferred to TPDM. A reliable former senior Eritrean military
source told the Group that he was informed by his former colleagues that the
following weapons had been transferred from EDF to the TPDM in autumn 2013,
most likely during the month of September: sniper rifles, Walther PP semi-automatic
pistols, Doshkas, Tokarev T pistols, and binoculars.The Monitoring Group has not
been able to substantiate the information provided nor confirm whether the weapons
given to TPDM came from old EDF stock or whether TPDM is being armed with
weapons procured for the army after the adoption of resolution 1907 (2009)
77. In Cairo on 15 February 2014, the Monitoring Group raised the question of the
source of the weapons used to arm TPDM with the Senior Political Adviser to the
President of Eritrea, Mr. Gebreab. Mr. Gebreab told the Group that the Government
of Eritrea does not support TPDM, which he said was interested in fighting the
Government of Ethiopia. He further stated that in his view, there were no arms
going to TPDM. The Monitoring Group requested additional information on TPDM
in two letters dated 7 March 2014 ( see annex 1) and 1 August 2014 (see annex 3).
During a videoconference on 28 July 2014, Ambassador Tesfay, did not answer the
Monitoring Group’s questions about TPDM, and he said that Ethiopian armed
groups were a creation of Ethiopia’s internal dynamics. He stressed that Eritrea was
not engaged in any internal destabilization in Ethiopia.
The UN Report
of the detailed findings of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea gave explained this about enforced conscription – known as giffa
‘Giffas have also been reportedly conducted by members of the Tigray Peoples’ Democratic Movement(TPDM).
A witness, who was picked up during a giffa in 2011 from his home, informed the Commission: “They do not tell you where they would take us but you know it is a round-up. There were Tigray soldiers. They carried guns and were in uniforms.”
A witness said: “We recognise the Demhit [members of the TPDM] because they have a different accent. They are involved in the giffas. The government uses them because they don’t have any links with the people.”’