Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed admitted Tuesday that troops from neighbouring Eritrea were present in the conflict-torn Tigray region and suggested they may have been involved in abuses against civilians.
The admission comes after months of denials from Addis Ababa and Asmara, and accusations from rights groups and residents mounted that Eritrean soldiers have carried out massacres in Tigray.
Abiy sent troops into the northern region of Tigray on November 4 after blaming the region’s once-dominant ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), for attacks on army camps.
The military campaign to unseat the TPLF has led to a drawn-out conflict that has seen brutal atrocities carried out against civilians.
In a wide-ranging speech to parliament, Abiy said the “Eritrean people and government did a lasting favour to our soldiers”, during the conflict, without giving more details.
“However, after the Eritrean army crossed the border and was operating in Ethiopia, any damage it did to our people was unacceptable,” he said.
“We don’t accept it because it is the Eritrean army, and we would not accept it if it were our soldiers. The military campaign was against our clearly targeted enemies, not against the people. We have discussed this four or five times with the Eritrean government.”
Abiy said that according to the Eritrean government, its soldiers had taken over trenches on the border which had been dug during the 1998-2000 border war between the two nations, after they were abandoned by Ethiopian soldiers.
“Eritrea told us it had national security issues and as a result had seized areas on the border” but had vowed to leave if Ethiopian soldiers returned to the trenches.
He said Eritrea argued the TPLF pushed them to enter the battle “by firing rockets” across the border.
“The Eritrean government has severely condemned alleged abuses and has said it will take measures against any of its soldiers accused of such.”
Abiy’s excuse for the mass rape of Tigrayan women, for alleged deaths by the bayonet of Ethiopian soldiers, sounds familiar. In 1935, Mussolini justified the indiscriminate atrocities on Ethiopian peasants, for the alleged killing or abuse of Italian prisoners of war. Abiy’s excuse is even more reprehensible; the atrocities happened in a civil war.
As usual, many of Abiy’s statements to the parliament are in direct conflict with his recent statements. He seems to be suffering from amnesia. It is to be recalled that he vehemently denied that Eritrean troops ever crossed the Ethiopian border. Now that everybody knows the truth, his “advisors” must have urged him to admit this. The fates of Esaias and Abiy are intertwined, and they will stay the course to the end which may be too ugly to contemplate.
He didn’t admit when it mattered. Now they are kicked out, he says so to placate USA. What a stupid…