Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict: the ‘twisted joke’ of denial of violence finally laid bare | World news

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 Ethiopia's Tigray conflict: the 'twisted joke' of denial of violence finally laid bare |  World news


Over the past five months, the Ethiopian head of government has categorically denied the existence of Eritrean troops, as well as their military equipment, in the northern Tigray region.

Today Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed dropped the pretext, admitting in the country’s House of People’s Representatives that there were Eritrean soldiers, “guarding the border against the TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front) “.

The statement constitutes an official acceptance of the blatant obviousness.

The near ubiquitous presence of Eritrean soldiers in northern Ethiopia has become a sort of twisted joke among residents of Tigrayan towns like Shire.

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The government said the war in Ethiopia was over

Dressed in a distinctive light camouflage, Eritreans travel to the central business district to purchase supplies, have their vehicles repaired or pick up new equipment.

A short drive out of town brings you to a contract with checkpoints manned by surly Eritrean soldiers.

When we tried to visit the remains of the Hitsats refugee camp – one of two camps reportedly attacked by Eritrean troops in mid-November – we were stopped by a man wearing an officer’s cap .

“N’tsaeda seb sifkedn” or “no white people are allowed,” he barked.

Eritrean soldiers give orders in Ethiopia: we did as we were told and turned around.

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Thousands of Ethiopian refugees who fled the Tigray conflict are forced to queue for food in refugee camps in Sudan

There was ample evidence of extensive cooperation between the leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea before Prime Minister Ahmed made his announcement today.

Locked in combat for years, the Ethiopian leader and Isias Afwerki, the dictatorial leader of Eritrea, signed a peace accord in 2018. It was a diplomatic breakthrough that won Ahmed the Nobel Peace Prize.

Today, Eritrea has joined forces with Abiy Ahmed in his attempt to eliminate the political party – and the people – that ruled Tigray for more than two decades, the TPLF.

A mix of Ethiopian and Eritrean troops control the main towns and highways of Tigray and we have spotted Eritrean tanks, armored vehicles and trucks full of troops populating an area stretching from Shire to the Eritrean border.

We stopped in a village and started chatting with a group of local women.

“How many Eritrean soldiers are there? ” I asked.

“A lot,” she whispered.

Eyewitness of John Sparkes, Tigray Ethiopia.  Shimelba refugee camp destroyed
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The “sorry scene of senseless destruction” in a refugee camp

“Do you have to be careful what you say?” ”

“You can’t say anything. You cannot speak. Whether it’s bad or good, you just say good, ”she replied.

We went to the second of two refugee camps allegedly attacked by the Eritrean army. His name is Shimelba and we were greeted by a heartbreaking scene of senseless destruction.

The refugee camp provided shelter and protection to some 11,500 Eritreans, in accordance with international law. Most countries, including Eritrea, are signatories to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.

Government says war in Ethiopia is over
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The government said the war in Ethiopia was over

Yet the shrine of Shimelba had come under a terrifying assault.

Administrative buildings were set on fire, health facilities were ransacked, and medicines and supplies were washed away. Hundreds of houses with thatched roofs had been systematically set on fire.

Refugees tabby.  Eyewitness to sparks
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“You can’t say anything. You can not speak ‘

The only piece of equipment that had been abandoned was a pair of rusty scales.

Hundreds executed, thousands homeless – the human cost of fighting in Tigray

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‘I left my bed behind’

The attacks on Shimelba and Hitsats, which are said to have taken place on or around November 19, took place amid heavy fighting with the TPLF and may constitute the worst atrocity of this vicious conflict.

I spoke to a man who said he witnessed the attack.

“What happened to the people who were here? ” I asked.

He said: “People have been shot dead. Heavy weapons and tanks were firing and houses were set on fire. That’s when people fled. If they caught them, they killed them. It was the Eritrean army that did this. ”

Aid officials told us that Eritrean soldiers attacked the Hitsats camp around the same time as Shimelba.

We spoke to a man who lived in Hitsats when the troops moved in and he told us he was absolutely terrified.

He said, “When we heard the gunshots, people were running everywhere, left and right. I lived in ‘Zone D’ and my friend in Zone A was killed. ”

“Sammy” says he was interrogated by soldiers who accused him of working for anti-government parties and an opposition media organization called ASENA.

He survived several rounds of interrogation and was held with other camp residents for the next two months without food and clean water to drink.

“I cry when I think about it. We ate moringa leaves. We spent our time eating moringa, mashing and eating the leaves. We were really starving, ”he said.

“There was no food or water. I wish I had never been a refugee. ”

At the end of January, the residents of Shimelba were ordered to leave the camp and walk 100 km to the Eritrean border.

Sammy, who fled the country in 2019 to avoid compulsory life-long service in the Eritrean military, realized he was going to be forcibly returned.

“I was limping, there were blisters on my feet. We were injured, ”he said.

“We would have preferred to die. It was hard. ”

When he arrived in the border town of Sheraro, the refugee concocted a plan to escape.

He asked a soldier if he could approach a local household and beg for leftover food because the Eritrean army had not provided them with anything to eat during their three-day march.

The soldier nodded and Sammy took the opportunity to escape.

The majority were less fortunate.

Aid officials told Sky News they believe thousands of residents of Shimelba and Hitsats camps have been forced to return to Eritrea, with some being required to sign “confession papers” along the way.

The current status of these individuals is unknown.

Sky News understands that there were around 35,000 residents in both camps, but only 7,000 re-registered as refugees in Ethiopia.

Of this group, the majority moved to two other camps in western Tigray (Adi Harush and Mai Aini).

We also know that several hundred Eritreans fled to Sudan, around a thousand perhaps live in Shire, and a small number have traveled to cities like the capital Addis Ababa.

This leaves large numbers of refugees from both camps unanswered – aid officials here in Ethiopia are extremely concerned for their safety.

They fear that thousands of people have been killed or kidnapped in Eritrea – the country that risked their lives to flee.

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