News Analysis: “We don’t want it”: North Command chief on Eritrean army in Tigray; says army didn’t let alien forces in. Full speech

Major General Belay Seyoum, Commander of the Northern Command of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF). Picture: Screengrab

By Medihane Ekubamichael @Medihane 

Addis Abeba, January 06/2020 – In a speech that lasted for more than 20 minutes and delivered as part of response to questions raised by the residents of Mekelle, the capital of Tigray regional state, Major General Belay Seyoum Commander of the Northern Command, said the army knows “the problems being raised” with regard to Eritrean forces in Tigray and that “it’s painful.”

Maj. Gen. Belay’s speech followed a short comment from a man who said that the interim administration must understand its main challenge would be to facilitate a smooth relation between the region and the federal government until such times that the people elected their representatives. He also said that challenges were ahead for the interim administration with regard to healing the damaged psychological spirit of the people of Tigray.

Addressing his comments to Maj. Gen. Belay, the man says that “Ethiopia is a sovereign country that no one should violate.” Maj. Gen. Belay’s speech came right after in which he addressed several topics raised from the attendees of the town hall meeting held, according to what Addis Standard learned, on December 27/2020 at Hawulti Semaetat hall.

“Ethiopia is a sovereign country that no one should violate.”

It is in response to the man’s remark on sovereignty that Maj. Gen. Belay started to speak during which he revealed of the presence and participation of Eritrean forces in the armed conflict in Tigray. “My father said one good thing, ‘the defense forces must guard our sovereignty,’ it is the right thing to say. The main mission of the defense force is to safeguard our sovereignty.” But he said the federal army were not the ones who let the Eritrean forces in, and “do not want it”. “Are we the one who let it in? We don’t want it; we personally feel as a defense force, it is our country.”

Maj. Gen Belay also addressed questions raised in connection with looted properties and assured the people of Tigray that the properties “can’t go anywhere according to the law, we are in the same country, especially if they are from within us….it must be returned.” However, he said that “what have been given to aliens is another matter, as I said before, it is another matter.”

In the past, citing U.S. government sources, humanitarian agencies and satellite images, several leading international media, including the New York Times, Reuters, and Bloomberg, have reported about the presence and involvement of Eritrean forces in the armed conflict in Tigray, which broke out on Nov. 04/2020. But these reports have been vehemently denied by authorities in Addis Abeba and Asmara.

With his remark that his “conscience does not allow” him to say “‘Eritrean army come and help us'” and that the federal army doesn’t lack “the capacity to solve” the problems in Tigray, Maj. Gen. Belay’s admission not only puts an end to denials by Ethiopian and Eritrean authorities of the presence and participation of Eritrean forces in the armed conflict in Tigray, but also raises more questions.

Below is the English translation of Major General Belay Seyoum’s speech

Why we are in this all this complication… I think the people of Mekelle understand why this is so. I think that is what we should know better. The people of Tigray are aware of the conspiracy of the Junta group against us while we, as a defense force, have been working with the people of Tigray for a long time, ready to die for the people.

As the young man mentioned, we are well aware on our part that the people of Tigray are unaware of this problem. Let alone the people of Tigray, the central committees withing the Junta do not know it. This is the result of the brutality of the extremists who think only of themselves, who have no agenda for the people of Tigray; who think Ethiopia could exist if they exist, but Ethiopia would be torn apart if they do not exist; brutal group who want to disperse the people of Tigray. Nowhere in the world a mother kills her child, no matter what the problem.

As you know, the North Command is a kind who built schools, construct roads, chase locusts before the operation; but they marched on our camp ambushed and massacred the army who had been gathering farmers’ harvest and was resting with no shoes on. Nowhere else can you kill your comrades, brothers while inviting them for malicious praises and reforms.

It is possible to say repeatedly that the people of Tigray do not know anything, and we are sure. How do we know the people of Tigray? Most of our troops have been here since the Ethio-Eritrean war, and I have lived in Adiabo for more than twenty years. We know that when we are sad, they share our sadness, when we are hungry, they feed us from what they have and take care of us when we get wounded and die with us when we die.  This is what happens even now. We know exactly who did this to us, our fight is with that force, we are not fighting with Tigray, this should be clear.

My father said one good thing, “the defense forces must guard our sovereignty,” it is the right thing to say. The main mission of the defense force is to safeguard our sovereignty; but we have to think ‘who violated our right to guard our sovereignty?’ It was the army that was guarding our sovereignty, that had been massacred in the fort and an alien army we didn’t want came in. Are we the one who let it in? We don’t want it; we personally feel as a defense force, it is our country. We know the problems that are being raised, it’s painful; but who let them in? Wasn’t that intentional? It was the army that was guarding the border that was tied up by the hand and killed. After that who would say “don’t come in?” My conscience does not allow me to say “Eritrean army come and help us!” We can solve our own problems on our own, and we do not lack the capacity to solve them. But isn’t the army killed on every front? The whole army on the border was massacred, some who has a bit of a relief went to Eritrea when they got a way-out. The border was left open by the forces of the Junta, not the defense forces. This is something to be aware of.

Here, in general, the idea raised to conduct recovery and focus on our borders is correct. That is in fact our job, to protect our people. We do not want our people to be robbed or be harmed in any way, but it is good to understand that it is the extreme junta members that have played a major role in making these problems worse; the ones who play in people’s life and make us kill each other; prevented the youth from excelling in knowledge and taking the country forward, pushed the youth to a war and caused the social crises being raised now. We are well aware that the people of Tigray in general did not benefit from this body. Probably those who had a networked connection may have gotten a leftover penny. Because we lived for quite long time with the people, we know the questions of good governance, the general issues of Ethiopians, the conditions of working together, and the questions of equal benefits with other peoples; we know how the questions are being misinterpreted, and incited other questions, questions of hate to be raised not to let us continue together and hate one another.

As my father said earlier, the people of Tigray have died as an Ethiopian, suffered, saved a country, kept a country, passed it on to generations, there is no question about this. This is something we all understand: We have inherited this history and we are defending the country. But we know very well how much these golden values ​​of the people of Tigray have been harmed. From this, we precisely know that it is not only the defense forces but also the people of Tigray who have been hurt.

Therefore, we must be able to strongly condemn the group who is responsible for these social crises, all the psychological problems, the current instability and causes of the problem. That’s when the solutions come: I think it’s important to understand that the problems are created in this aspect. The pressure on us is not easy. The pressure on our readiness, the psychological pressure on us is heavy. They disarmed us, took our weapons and put a lot of pressure on the country’s economy. They killed our comrades, killed our leaders, killed our brothers; they killed a soldier on every hill, who vowed to guard the country and would not surrender. This is difficult for us, but even if it is heavy we, along with the people of Tigray, are confident that our grief will be healed and our bond renewed.

So, if we realize that this group has created a lot of pressure on us, I want to say something about questions regarding security issues. What is the command post doing now? What will be the security of the city? What is the future of the Special Forces? I think the main mission of the Command Post is to restore peace to where it was. In addition to the expansion of reorganizing the kebele and sub-city, work is underway to create a conducive environment for the police, for the traffic officers to make the defense forces eventually withdraw from the city. There are also good signs.

As it is said the armed forces and militias could take reform and rehabilitation courses and serve their country. Our fight is not with these young people, nor with the militia. But we are also working to disarm and make others replace them to work in their kebeles, woredas, and throughout Tigray. This means that it will continue to be strengthened. Our people must help us keep this strong. We don’t want Mekelle to live under a command post, we don’t want Mekelle to get into trouble with the military roaming within the city.

As much as possible, an attempt was made not to shoot a single cannon out of respect for the people of Mekelle; for at this time the people do not support us. Now you have young people, you have fathers, we have to support, we have to listen. The North Command must work together here to make a difference. It doesn’t bring change if we have troops in all the kebeles.

It is true that there are some problems after the city came under the command post. There is theft, there are things that seem unstable. Nothing to hide. We have nothing to hide from you. But there are young people who had been imprisoned here in Mekelle for a long time, who have been creating problems at night wearing our uniforms and harassing the people claiming that the military is robbing. There are also special forces and militias that are not fully in sight; we must cooperate. If there is a disciplinary problem within the army, we will correct it. It is unacceptable if there is a security force that is harassing the people and trying to capture them because we have weapons. If this is the case then won’t be any different than the junta. We know very well that our people are with us tomorrow and today. So, if there are young people or members of the military who are causing this kind of problem, we will filter them together. There are things that are being fixed step by step, but if there are any such problems, the command post will fix upon pointing it to the command post.

There is instability among the people of Mekelle caused by those who are still the messengers of the junta, still talking about the return of the fallen 80- and 90-year-olds.We have to calm down. Be rest assured that they are gone once and for all. You need to be sure of that. You must cooperate with the new interim administration. Then Tigray will return to where it was, the young men will get jobs and elders will go to church, to the mosque without fear and hesitation and we will have a stable country. Leave the different rumors for us to defend, we will work. You should calm down and focus on the options offered by the administration, so that the people no longer suffer.

To tell you the truth, there is a better level of recovery here in Mekelle, there are areas that we have not reached, there are people who have not seen electricity, there are those who have not received water, there are those who do not have a functioning mill. And I think you have to be sure that we are going back to that and that we are working on a well-organized security program.

So the Defense Forces are working with you to maintain order in this area. This means that we may be able to solve problems by working together. There are other questions that are raised in connection with property. It can’t go anywhere according to the law, we are in the same country, especially if they are from within us. What we have given to aliens is another matter, as I said before, it is another matter. But if there are issues within in our own, it cannot go anywhere, it must be returned; let’s not make it a big agenda.

What should be a big agenda, as my predecessors said, is let’s get back to the shattered psychological problem and reverse it. This will only be reversed when we have cooperation. If the administration reorganized without the people, I do not thing it will make the difference. What I saw here today is very exciting, it needs to be supported.

There are people who are now creating trouble while hiding among the people. To be honest, our fight is not with the existing retired fighters; we have no problem with associations; we have no problem with district and kebele administration officials, but with the main Junta power. So instead, it is better to work together and forgive as soon as possible. These men are mostly with you, they must approach the transitional government, apologize, and serve the people. There is no escape by hiding ,we are wasting our time, it adds more and more crises. So our focus is on that power.

We know how most of the defense forces members were forcibly put into battle. They had no choice at the time, but now they must apologize and return home. There are also former fighters whom we know very well. They fought with the Derg, were wounded, and bled. We know that they fought for the freedom of Tigray while the junta enjoyed their life traveling around the countries with their families. We know they didn’t benefit anything, because they are our friends, we fought together. So let’s forget about that and let’s get along with the new government and help our kebeles, woredas become peaceful. If this can be done, the security situation in Mekelle will be improved within a short period of time and we will do the same in other zones and woredas.

In addition to the feedback we have received from our people, we have also found great resources to work on maintaining peace. Let us repair the broken spirit than dwelling on past grief. One way to restore our spirit is when we feel safe. The army will do all he can to keep you safe. Don’t listen to anyone who claims that they reached around here or there, or bring you the news of the Junta that Aboy Sibehat is here and there. Tell him to get away. Problems were created and we know who created them. We have zero doubt on our people; don’t doubt that.

The second is in connection with our sovereignty; we are working on the basis of the constitution. I think the main task is the work of the transitional government. We are ready to do our work without favor to this people or that people; to do a balanced work for the security of a better Ethiopia so that our people can move from place to place and feel safe as much as possible.

I would like to take this opportunity to state that North Command is ready to reform reorganize itself and work with the people of Tigray. Thank you.

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