Kidnapping, looting, cited in Ethiopia’s Tigray after ceasefire

KAMPALA – Allies of the Ethiopian federal military are looting property and conducting mass arrests in Tigray, according to eyewitnesses and aides.

The reports raise fresh concerns about alleged atrocities more than three weeks after the warring parties signed a ceasefire that diplomats and others hoped would end suffering in the contested region, home to more than 5 million people .

Tigray is still largely cut off from the rest of Ethiopia, although aid shipments to the region have resumed following the November 2 ceasefire agreement signed in South Africa. Human rights researchers have limited or no access to the region, making it difficult for journalists and others to obtain information from Tigray as Ethiopian forces maintain control of the region.

Eritrean troops and forces from neighboring Ethiopia’s Amhara region – who have fought alongside the Ethiopian federal military in the Tigray conflict – have looted shops, private property, vehicles and health clinics in Shire, a northwestern town captured by Tigray forces last month , two aid workers there told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity over security concerns.

Several young people had been kidnapped by Eritrean troops in Shire, the helpers said. One said he saw “more than 300” youths rounded up by Ethiopian federal troops in multiple waves of mass arrests after the capture of the Shire, home to a large number of internally displaced people.

“There are different detention centers all over the city,” said the aid worker, who also noted that Ethiopian federal forces were arresting people believed to be with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, or TPLF, the political party whose leaders were waging the war , “affiliated” are against the federal government.

Civilians accused of supporting Tigray forces are being arrested in the southern city of Alamata, according to a local resident who said Amhara forces had arrested several of his friends. A former regional official said Amhara forces were also conducting “mass” arrests in the town of Korem, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of Alamata, and in surrounding rural areas.

Both the Alamata resident and the former regional official, like some others who spoke to the AP, asked for anonymity for security reasons and fear of reprisals.

The continued presence of Eritrean troops in Tigray remains a sore point in the ongoing peace process and the US has called for their withdrawal from the region.

The military spokesman and government communications minister in Ethiopia did not respond to a request for comment. The Embassy of Eritrea in Ethiopia did not respond either.

Eritrea, which borders Tigray, was not mentioned in the text of the ceasefire agreement. Eritrea’s absence from the ceasefire negotiations had raised questions about whether that country’s repressive government, which has long viewed the Tigray authorities as a threat, would respect the agreement.

A subsequent implementation agreement signed by military commanders in Kenya says that Tigray forces will disband their heavy weapons “simultaneously with the withdrawal of foreign and non-(federal) forces from the region”.

But aid officials, diplomats and others in Tigray say Eritrean forces are still active in several areas of Tigray, disrupting the peace process. Eritrean troops were blamed for some of the conflict’s worst abuses, including gang rape.

Tigrai Television, a regional broadcaster based in Mekele, the capital of Tigray, reported on November 19 that Eritrean soldiers killed 63 civilians, including 10 children, in an area called Egela in central Tigray. That report cited witnesses, including one who said affected communities were prevented from burying their dead.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed the importance of implementing the peace agreement, “including the withdrawal of all foreign forces and the simultaneous disarmament of Tigray forces,” according to State Department spokesman Ned in a phone call Monday. Price.

Four youths were killed by Eritrean forces on November 17 in the northwest Tigray town of Axum, an AP humanitarian official said. “The killings have not stopped despite the peace deal… and they are being carried out in Axum exclusively by Eritrean forces,” the humanitarian said.

A statement from Tigray’s communications office last week said the Eritrean military “continues to commit horrific atrocities in Tigray,” according to the Fire Deal.

The brutal fighting that spilled over into the Amhara and Afar regions last year as Tigray forces advanced on the federal capital resumed in Tigray in August after months of a lull.

Tigray faces a serious humanitarian crisis after two years of aid cuts. These restrictions led a UN panel of experts to conclude that the Ethiopian government was likely using “hunger as a weapon of war” against the region.

Ethiopian authorities have long denied attacking civilians in Tigray and said their aim is to arrest the region’s rebel leaders.

Despite the African Union-led ceasefire, basic services like telephone, electricity and banking are still shut down in most parts of Tigray. The US estimates that hundreds of thousands of people may have been killed in a war marked by abuses on all sides.

The ceasefire agreement requires federal authorities to facilitate “unhindered humanitarian access” to Tigray. The World Food Program said on Friday it had sent 96 trucks carrying food and fuel to Tigray since the deal, although access to parts of central and eastern Tigray remains “restricted”.

Unrestricted access to Tigray has not yet been granted despite the number of trucks entering the region, with several restrictions remaining in place, a development agency official said on Friday. There are limits to the amount of cash humanitarian organizations can bring to Tigray, while checkpoints and military commanders impede aid workers’ movements within the region, the aid worker said.

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Sarah Y. Kim

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