Ethiopia PM admits Eritrean soldiers entered Tigray region

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has admitted for the first time that troops from neighbouring Eritrea entered the northern region of Tigray during the conflict that broke out five months ago, suggesting they may have been involved in abuses against civilians.

The admission on Tuesday comes after months of denials from Ethiopia and Eritrea, even as credible accusations from rights groups and residents mounted that Eritrean soldiers have carried out massacres in Tigray following the start of the Ethiopian government’s offensive against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), then the region’s governing party.

In a wide-ranging speech to parliament, Abiy said on Tuesday Eritrean troops had crossed the border and entered the region because they were concerned they would be attacked by the longtime foe – the TPLF, which dominated Ethiopian politics for decades until Abiy came to power in 2018, had presided over a brutal 1998-2000 war with Eritrea.

Abiy said Eritreans had promised to leave when Ethiopia’s military was able to control the border.

He added that 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.

In a wide-ranging speech to parliament, Abiy said on Tuesday Eritrean troops had crossed the border and entered the region because they were concerned they would be attacked by the longtime foe – the TPLF, which dominated Ethiopian politics for decades until Abiy came to power in 2018, had presided over a brutal 1998-2000 war with Eritrea.

Abiy said Eritreans had promised to leave when Ethiopia’s military was able to control the border.

He added that 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.

‘War narrative’

The comments also marked the first time Abiy appeared to acknowledge that serious crimes have taken place in Tigray, home to six million people.

“Reports indicate that atrocities have been committed in Tigray region,” Abiy said.

War is “a nasty thing”, he added, speaking the local Amharic language. “We know the destruction this war has caused.”

After months of tension, fighting erupted in Tigray after forces loyal to the TPLF – whose leaders challenged Abiy’s legitimacy after the postponement of elections last year – attacked army bases across the region overnight and in the early hours of November 4.

The attacks initially overwhelmed the federal military, which later launched a counteroffensive alongside Eritrean soldiers and forces from the neighbouring region of Amhara. The federal army is now hunting the fugitive TPLF leadership.

Abiy said soldiers who raped women or committed other war crimes will be held responsible, even though he cited “propaganda of exaggeration”.

He spoke as concerns continue to grow over the humanitarian situation in the embattled region.

Abiy accused the TPLF’s leaders of drumming “a war narrative” while the area faced challenges such as a destructive invasion of locusts and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This was misplaced and untimely arrogance,” he said.

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