Despite denials by Ethiopia, multiple reports confirm killings, looting and forcible return of refugees by Asmara’s forces.
In Shire, Tigrayan elders spoke in vivid detail of the horrors that had befallen the town. Residents had been “slaughtered like chicken”, the elders said, their corpses abandoned to be “eaten by hyenas”. They also spoke of rampant looting and vandalism: “All government assets have been destroyed and looted,” said one.
According to eyewitnesses, aid workers and diplomats, the fighting has also involved many thousands of soldiers from neighbouring Eritrea, suggesting that what the Ethiopian government calls a “law enforcement operation” bears the hallmarks of a regional conflict.
Abiy and Eritrea’s president, Isaias Afwerki, share a common enemy in the TPLF. Refugees crossing into Sudan told reporters and aid workers that artillery shells that hit towns in western Tigray had come from Eritrea.
“The Eritrean people are not only our brothers. They have also shown us practically that they are friends who stood by our side on a tough day,” Abiy told parliament last month.“We are aware of credible reports of Eritrean military involvement in Tigray and view this as a grave development. We urge that any such troops be withdrawn immediately,” U.S. state department spokesperson.
“In the lingo of the state department that means they have intercepts, satellites and maybe even human intelligence as well. From everything we’ve been told it is incontrovertible they [Eritrean troops] are involved. It’s absolutely clear,” a top EU diplomat in the region.
“Eritreans were really leading the Ethiopian forces in the area. Their uniform is different and they are relatively old and skinny compared with the Ethiopian defence forces. In the early days of their arrival to Shire they were looting, randomly shooting, mainly youngsters, and burning factories. At first the Ethiopian forces were emotional, and were not doing much to stop the attacks. But later on they started to take charge [and impose order].” Wallelegn, a Tigrayan working in Shire when the war began who later escaped to the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
In recent days, according to a refugee based in Adi Harush camp, south of Hitsats, Eritrean soldiers accompanied by Ethiopian troops have patrolled the camp on the hunt for individuals. “They were searching name-by-name and home-to-home. Their main target seems to be opposition members.”
Eritrean state television, the only broadcast media in the country, has made no mention of the conflict in Ethiopia since it began, Eritreans living in Asmara say. President Isaias has not uttered a word in public in response to the missiles fired at Asmara last month.
Ethiopian officials, meanwhile, have accused the TPLF of manufacturing fake Eritrean uniforms to falsely implicate their neighbours, and insist that the conflict remains an exclusively internal affair.
As for the broader claims of Eritrean involvement, Meron Estefanos said: “People inside Eritrea know exactly what is going on. I am sick and tired of the fact that, no matter how many Eritreans say that Eritrean troops are in Tigray, it is not confirmed until a foreign diplomat says it is.”
Humanitarian organizations are sounding the alarm on the safety of Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia’s Tigray region as reports of attacks and forced deportations emerge.
Sarah Miller, a senior fellow with Refugees International: “There’s a lot of concern that Eritreans are being forced back to places where they would be in danger. Whether that’s inside Ethiopia, including an active conflict zone in Tigray, or even back into Eritrea where they’ve fled, and that would be a huge violation of international law. There is a right to flee for your life no matter where you are and the concern is that they are being pushed back, forced back into those camps into an active conflict zone or as I said back into Eritrea which would be worrisome.”
Stijn Vercruysse, a reporter with Belgium’s VRT NWS, spoke to Eritrean refugees on the road to Shiraro after fleeing Shimelba Refugee Camp in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. Vercruysse told VOA that refugees said some people in the camps were being forcibly returned to Eritrea. Vercruysse said one refugee said he witnessed armed men forcing people into vehicles.
Recent reports suggest that Eritrean soldiers have been involved in the Tigray region conflict.
Redwan Hussien, a spokesman for the Ethiopian government’s task force in Tigray, said that no one is allowed to have unfettered access to the region without the government’s permission after a U.N. team was fired on by federal forces.