UN report: Somali soldiers in Eritrea took part in Tigray genocide
NAIROBI, Kenya – Somalia troops training in Eritrea took part in the Tigray war that led to deaths of thousands of people besides displacing tens of thousands, a special human rights report by the UN says, in what could further complicate the crisis in Ethiopia.
From November 2020, the Ethiopian National Defense Forces [ENDF] and their counterparts from Eritrea have pitched tents in the Tigray region in pursuit of Tigray People’s Liberation Front [TPLF] fighters but multiple reports have linked them to gross violation of human rights.
The operation was triggered by an alleged TPLF attack at the Northern Command, which led to the deaths of ENDF soldiers beside the destruction of heavy weaponry. But despite calls for a ceasefire, the troops have continued to ransack several towns in Tigray leading to the deaths of dozens of innocent civilians.
However, it’s the impending report by the UN implicating Somali soldiers that could give the crisis a new dimension, given frequent denials by the Mogadishu and Asmara administrations, which ruled out the involvement of SNA trainees in the war.
Early this year, Garowe Online published reports on the participation of Somali soldiers in the Tigray conflict where some of them were reported dead, but authorities in Mogadishu denied the claims, despite conceding that hundreds of soldiers were still training in Eritrea.
Excerpts of the report in possession of Garowe Online indicate that the UN found concrete evidence of Somali soldiers engaging in the Tigray war, noting that they were tagged along by those from Eritrea, whose presence in Tigray has triggered international retribution against Addis Ababa and Asmara.
Somali soldiers in Axum
Although the report doesn’t give an exact number of the Somali soldiers operating in Tigray, it, however, states that they were moved from military camps and crossed over to Tigray. Further, the report notes, the troops were present during the Axum genocide that left hundreds dead.
Axum city is considered a holy shrine in northern Tigray in Ethiopia. Multiple reports published by various rights groups and international media revealed mass killings that targeted worshippers in the town in November last year, mostly innocent children and women.
“The Special Rapporteur has also received information and reports that Somali troops were moved from military training camps in Eritrea to the frontline in Tigray where they accompanied Eritrean troops as they crossed the Ethiopian border. It’s also reported that Somali soldiers were around Axum,” reads a section of the report.
The mass killing went on for three weeks and it’s at this time information leaked about the presence of Somali and Eritrea soldiers in Tigray. At first, Ethiopia denied the reports only to admit the presence of Eritrea troops, who Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed promised to withdraw, but he’s yet to fulfill the pledge.
Apart from Axum, the soldiers were sighted in Mekele, the regional administrative capital of the Tigray region which would be captured months later. In Somalia, parents of the said soldiers thronged into streets demanding their whereabouts but the government assured them of their safety.
A few weeks ago, the parents returned to the streets of Mogadishu to ask for the progress of the training in Eritrea but were dispersed by security forces. Contradicting reports indicate that hundreds of Somali soldiers may have died in the war while others claim it’s only two who died during training.
Although the Somali government denies these reports, the UN report acknowledges efforts by parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defense committees which reportedly recommended to President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo to dispatch a fact-finding mission to Eritrea over the matter.
“The Special Rapporteur was informed that the Foreign Affairs and defense committees of parliament have informed the Head of State to dispatch a fact-finding mission to Asmara for an investigation,” the report, which will be released in coming weeks, notes.
Abiy Ahmed has often pledged to withdraw Eritrea troops from the Tigray region but the conflict seems to be far from ending. On Sunday, he was quoted saying he’d identified “traitors” something which is closely linked with his endless feud with TPLF, a party that was in the defunct ruling coalition that governed Ethiopia from 1989 before changing the name to Prosperity Party in 2020.
A number of TPLF associates have been either arrested or executed under controversial circumstances with three more people extradited from Djibouti last week to face trial in Ethiopia. Addis Ababa accuses TPLF of targeting ENDF troops in their clandestine missions.
Call it Tigray genocide
Goitom Aregawi, also known as activist Ztseat, who is a Medical Doctor in Mekelle University Hospital and Chair of Seb-Hidari Civil Society, Tigray, took a swipe on the two leaders, accusing them of masterminding the war, which has left thousands of people dead despite denials from Ethiopia.
In an opinion penned by the doctor, a first eyewitness of the war on The Elephant, he noted that many people are starving due to blockades imposed by both Ethiopia and Eritrea troops operating in the separatist region of Ethiopia.
“But most of Tigray remains inaccessible to outsiders and communications are severely restricted, so the vast majority of these crimes remain unknown and undocumented,” he says. “As a medical doctor from Tigray who served in the regional capital of Mekelle during the first four months of the genocide before fleeing my country one month ago, I have watched this violence unfolding with my own eyes and I bear both personal and professional witness.”
According to him, the mass murder is instigated by Abiy Ahmed, an Oromia who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019, and Afwerki, a strongman in the Horn of Africa, who is yet to face competitive elections since 1993. Eritrea has traditionally had a grudge against the Tigray region, which is historical.
The doctor argues that Afwerki and Abiy Ahmed are keen to exterminate the Tigrayan people through starvation, something which could trigger a dire humanitarian crisis in the country. Tigray is found in Northern Ethiopia and borders Eritrea.
“Mass murder is not enough for the masterminds of the atrocities in Tigray, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki,” he said. “Their armed forces and allied militias seek to exterminate the Tigrayan people by inducing mass starvation; they are burning crops and seeds, cutting trees, destroying agricultural implements, killing animals, and destroying small dams and irrigation canals, to cripple the agricultural sector.”
Reports by UN agencies and Tigray’s interim administration assert that more than 2.3 million people in the region are internally displaced, and 5.2 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian aid. According to UNICEF, the number of severely malnourished children in Tigray has gone up nearly 90 percent in the past week.
Uncounted numbers of people have already died of hunger. But the Ethiopian government, the Eritrean Army, and Amhara forces are determined to block humanitarian efforts, impeding and obstructing access by aid agencies. At least eight aid workers have been killed in the last six months. The coordinated ethnic
US President Joe Biden issued a bold statement on the raging crisis in Ethiopia, warning of escalating violence and the hardening of regional and ethnic divisions, including the “large-scale human rights abuses” and “widespread sexual violence” taking place in Tigray. But he stopped short of calling the appalling atrocities in Tigray by their true name: genocide, Goitom Aregawi noted.
“President Biden and other world leaders have a moral and legal duty to call this evil in Tigray by its true name, genocide, and to identify and prosecute those ultimately responsible for this most heinous of crimes – Abiy Ahmed and Isaias Afwerki. And then to act with ruthless efficiency and determination to end the genocide,” he said.
In an alert, the UN sexual and reproductive health agency, UNFPA, said that it was aware of “gross violations”, including gender-based violence in the war-torn north.
“The situation of women and adolescent girls in Tigray and border areas of Amhara and Afar remains dire”, said UNFPA Executive Director Natalia Kanem. “We see alarming levels of sexual violence, and thousands of women lack access to health and protection services.”
Abiy Ahmed has often denied claims that thousands have been killed in Tigray, arguing that the troops have been targeting TPLF fighters in the country. But on several occasions, he has admitted that Eritrea troops are in the country and even pledged to have them out, a promise he’s yet to fulfill according to reports.