Abiy Ahmed’s Parliamentary Briefing on Tigray: Fact and Reality Check
Isaac M. 27.03.21
Part i was dedicated to fact and reality check on mass crimes. In this second and final part, Mr Ahmed’s ‘admission’ of Eritrea’s ‘border crossing’, the deployment of Amhara forces into Tigray and the question of withdrawal of both actors from Tigray are probed in light of subsequent ‘developments.
On Eritrean involvement
7. After months of utter denial, including knowingly misleading the UN Secretary General, about the involvement of Eritrea in the Tigray war, Abiy Ahmed admits, even if vaguely, that the Eritrean army has crossed into the Ethiopian border. He previously told the Secretary General that Eritrean troops were within their territory as per the award made to them by the Hague Commission. From this, what he appears to have said now is that the Eritreans have crossed to the former defence lines of the Ethiopian army ‘to protect their national security’.
This is not factually accurate admission: the Eritrean army participated in the war from the very beginning along the federal and Amhara forces, and its several infantry and mechanised divisions are still fighting Tigray forces deep inside Tigray and from the Amhara region bordering Tigray. This is confirmed by credible reports, including a recent report from Sky News titled: ‘Ethiopia's Tigray conflict: The 'twisted joke' of denial in the violence is finally laid bare’. This is corroborated by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission findings on the Axum massacre of unarmed civilians. Despite the Eritrean persistent denial, furthermore, Abiy Ahmed announced on 26 March that he and his partner in crime, Mr Afewerki, have agreed that the Eritrean army will withdraw from the Ethiopian ‘border’. This deliberately ambiguous account tries to hide the fact that the primary force battling Tigray forces is now the Eritrean army.
On the causes for Eritrean involvement
8. He claimed that Eritrea got involved after being attacked by TPLF rockets.
This is a fabricated fact. As mentioned earlier, the Eritrean army was part of the preparation, planning and the start of the war. Rockets were fired to Eritrea after the Tigray state government accused Eritrea of its involvement from the very beginning and because of the use of Eritrea’s airports and territory by the federal and Amhara forces to launch attacks on Tigray.
On Eritrea’s non (-withdrawal)
10. The leader claims that Eritrea entered into Ethiopia’s territory for fear of being attacked by the TPLF and to protect their national security. He also vows that they won’t leave Tigray as that is not a breach of international laws.
The national security justification for Eritrea’s presence in Tigray is a fully fabricated story by Mr Ahmed, and also contradicts with what he claims time and again that ‘TPLF is gone’ forever -he reiterated this rhetoric during this recent parliamentary session.
The Eritrean army has also occupied and forcefully annexed many Tigray towns and villages deep inside the Ethiopian territory; Eritrean troops are deployed to western, central and southern Tigray to encircle Tigray forces and leadership from day one. Until now, the Eritrean, federal and Amhara forces are on the offensive. The truth of the matter is thus the Eritrean army entered Tigray to help defeat the TPLF and collectively punish Tigrayans. That is what they are trying to do until now, albeit with a limited success.
Waging a war and committing gross crimes in partnership with a foreign dictator against your own people is not lawful under Ethiopian, African and global laws. Inviting a foreign country to intervene into a civil war situation to help suppress dissent constitutes both an illegal intervention into the affairs of Ethiopia and a breach of human rights and freedoms of the Tigray people. This is why the US and the EU countries are calling for withdrawal of Eritrea from Ethiopian territory. Even if one endorses his weak policy and legal argument, Eritrea is still denying its intervention, and he told the world that they are not there and that no one invited them to intervene.
11. Now, in less than two days of his announcement of defending the presence of Eritrean forces inside Ethiopia, Abiy turned 360 degree, and told the world that he concluded an agreement with the Eritrean dictator to withdraw the latter’s forces from the ‘border’.
This is factually untrue and also not realistic for three main reasons: first, the Eritrean army is not at the border of Ethiopia-Eritrea; its fighting in southern, western, central and northern Tigray. All Tigrayans, aid workers, the media, the UN, foreign governments and research institutions know this fact very well. At the time of finalising this fact and reality check, there are reports that 28 trucks full of Eritrean soldiers have entered Adwa, one of the towns of Tigray. This is just a few hours, if not minutes, following Ahmed’s announcement of Eritrean withdrawal.
Secondly, the Eritrean and Ethiopian armies are fighting the Tigray battle under a unified command and sharing military, logistical and military uniforms. The Eritrean army’s presence is not limited to Tigray, they are in the Amhara and Oromiya regional states and now have presence close to the Sudanese border from the Ethiopian side as reported by the UN.
Thirdly, despite Abiy Ahmed’s announcement that the Eritrean army positions at the ‘border’ will be replaced by the Ethiopian army, the latter is neither capable of covering the current Eritrean positions nor does it have the required manpower, leadership and conviction to sustain the fight. Abiy Ahmed’s plea for more recruits to the army during his parliamentary speech and his increased reliance on the Amhara and Eritrean forces confirm this.
The instant ‘change of policy’ is therefore clearly a tactic to defuse the international pressure on both dictators which may well lead to military or other forms of enforcement measures against one or both regimes. The very fact that both have not admitted the scale of intervention and presence of Eritrean forces is sufficient reason to not trust what they are now saying. The international community should not be trapped in the Ahmed-Afewerki tactic of getting away with their mass atrocities, starvation and using rape as a weapon in Tigray.
If the two dictators insist that they have committed to ensure Eritrea’s withdrawal, they should also commit to a fully and independently monitored and verifiable withdrawal of the forces from Tigray. And such verification and monitoring should not be just one-off event –it has to be regularly and permanently overseen and consequences of breaches set out until a full peace is restored in the region.
On Amhara forces involvement
12. Mr Ahmed further admitted that he deployed the Amhara forces (in effect the affiliated militia and vigilante groups such as Fano) to Tigray as part of his military operation.
This is correct; the military operations against Tigray are coordinated by himself, the Eritrean dictator and the Amhara leaders. This must also mean that what the Amhara forces have done, and are still doing, in western and southern Tigray, have been masterminded, coordinated or endorsed by himself and his associates in crime.
Despite many credible reports of ethnic cleansing, including by his own Human Rights Commission, perpetrated in western Tigray, he has neither officially condemned nor has he taken action to halt the mass crimes. Instead, he praised their ‘bravery’. This fact must therefore be noted by human rights defenders and relevant UN bodies.
On the causes for Amhara involvement
12. He claimed that Amhara forces were in Bahri-dar and Godar when military facilities located in the both cities were attacked by rockets form Tigray.
This is also a naked lie. As mentioned earlier, the leaders of the Amhara region have publicly said that the Amhara forces were fully prepared, deployed to the border and coordinated their military launch with some elements of the northern command that was stationed in Tigray.
On the withdrawal of Amhara forces
13. Abiy Ahmed said that the deployment of the Amhara forces into Tigray is lawful and is an internal matter. He also made an analogy with moving security forces state-to-state in the USA as a national matter.
This is baseless and not in conformity with Ethiopian laws and circumstances. First, deploying regional police forces to another region without the invitation and consent of the target regional state is unconstitutional under the Ethiopian constitution.
Secondly and most seriously, deploying the paramilitary and associated forces from the Amhara region to Tigray irrespective of their animosity, hard feelings and past crimes against innocent Tigrayans, amounts using and allowing them to massacre and evict Tigrayans. This is why Mr Ahmed should now take responsibility for the ethnic cleansing perpetrated by these forces. It has to be noted that he did not utter a word on the forced eviction of hundreds of thousands of Tigrayans from western Tigray.
Finally, the internal matter argument presented in response to the call for their withdrawal from Tigray is also flawed. What they are doing in Tigray cannot be defended as a sovereign and internal matter. In the first place, they have forcefully taken over the territory of another regional state within the federation with the assistance of federal and foreign forces. Moreover, what some responsible powers are asking is nothing to do with managing police or security forces’ movement within Ethiopia but targeting an armed actor that is engaged in ethnic cleaning and crimes against humanity. When a state fails to protect its own people, or wages a war against them, a fact which is happening in Tigray, other countries and the UN have the responsibility to step in.
Conclusions & takeaways
· Abi Ahmed (and his officials) publicly and repeatedly lied to the world about Eritrea’s involvement in the Tigray conflict. Despite his recent partial admission of their ‘crossing to the border’, he continued his policy of denial and cover-up of their full involvement in the Tigray war and their presence in the entire Tigray territory excepting the parts of Tigray that are under the control of the Tigray regional forces.
· In less than two days of his defence of the presence of Eritrean forces within Ethiopian territories, he told the world that he concluded an agreement for Eritrean forces withdraw from Ethiopian ‘borders’. This is not something to be trusted. If Ahmed and Afewerki want to be trusted, they have to: admit the full truth, commit withdrawal from the entire Tigray and accept a robust and effective international monitoring and oversight on the actual withdrawal of the forces.
· Short of this, it would mean continuation of atrocities, sexual violence, assaults and looting and destruction of what is left in Tigray. There won’t be credible criminal investigations while Afewerki’s army is in Tigray too. Most significantly, millions of civilians won’t get humanitarian assistance while the lawless and criminal army of Afewerki is present in Tigray. The international community must therefore table all its options to protect the Tigray civilian population –sanctions, military intervention, isolation, etc until lawless and brutal Afewerki is forced to leave Tigray and his crimes are investigated by an impartial body.
· The admission that the Amhara forces have been deployed by Mr Ahmed and his regime is correct; they have committed countless crimes ranging from extrajudicial killings, assaults, rapes to enforced evictions, expropriation of private and public property;
· Mr Ahmed has not been heard or seen taking any action or responsibility for any of their crimes other than praising their gallantry. His simple mention of investigation of rape allegations made against them is not sufficient. For these and other reasons therefore they have to leave from Tigrayan territory immediately. Afterall, they should not have been there.
· If the withdrawal of Eritrean and Amhara forces is given a deaf ear by the international community, the people of Tigray have no other choice but to toughen their multifaceted struggle to liberate themselves from a ruthless foreign occupation, extreme repression and genocide. This would have grave security implications for the country and the region at large. The international community must thus act now to stop armed violence, mass offences and huger in Tigray!