ADDIS ABABA – Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed confirmed the presence of Eritrean troops in the northern Tigray region and revealed how they were involved in the five-month-old conflict during his parliamentary address on Tuesday.
Fighting erupted in Ethiopia’s northern region after forces of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the former ruling party of Tigray, attacked federal army bases across the region on Nov. 4, 202.
The attacks initially overwhelmed the federal military, which later launched a counter-offensive the following day.
“What happened to us as a country should not be forgotten,” Abiy said.
The 200 coordinated attacks on the federal army and taking 1, 300 government officers there hostage came after, Abiy said, the federal government’s “several attempts” to resolve issues that may lead to conflict.
The purpose of our law enforcement operation, Abiy said, is to bring criminals to justice, release hostages and return looted weapons, as well as secure the country’s sovereignty by facilitating opportunities for the people of Tigray to vote.
“That is what we did,” he said.
In the process, he said reports indicate that atrocities have been committed in the region and the government, in addition to Ethiopia’s Human Rights Commission, are probing the accusations.
“Any member of the national defence who committed rape and looting against our Tigrayan sisters will be held accountable,” Abiy said.
The PM also revealed the reason Eritrean troops had crossed the border when the conflict started and the accusations of widespread looting and rights abuses by the soldiers.
The PM said his government has had extensive discussions with the Eritrean government on the issue.
“The response from the Eritrean military to the fortifications is that those forts have been used by the destructive group for the past 20 years and could be used to attack them again if unguarded,” he said.
The Ethiopian army evacuated due to the rule of law operation.
“The Eritrean government has asked for assurance from the Ethiopian government which we have not been able to do as we are in the middle of the operation. Once we have controlled the destructive power that fights us, we can immediately guarantee that,” he said.
Regarding the accusations, “the Eritrean government has also announced their decision to punish any perpetrators on their side,” he added.
The fighting has claimed many lives and forced 60,000 people to flee to neighboring Sudan. Rights agencies and the United Nations have also raised concerns about atrocities committed in Tigray during the conflict.
The U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has called for ‘foreign forces’ to leave the region including special forces Amhara region, and described acts carried out in the region as ethnic cleansing. Ethiopia rejected both the request and the accusations.
“The Federal government reserves the right to deploy forces, including Amhara special forces or any other, to any corner of the country where support is needed and threats exist,” Abiy said.
“To assume these forces as external and apply misplaced pressure is erroneous,” he added.