News: Families of ten youngsters abducted by Eritrean forces near Axum in distraught over their whereabouts

Eritrean forces in Shire town on the eve of Epiphany (Timket) on 18 January. Photo: Haphtom Berhe

By Mihret G/kristos @MercyG_kirstos

Addis Abeba – The families of the 10 youths who were abducted by Eritrean troops from Gure Endagabir, a place around Axum city, in the Tigray regional state, on 18 January 2023 ,have expressed their deep distraught about the whereabouts of their sons.

Three family members who spoke with Addis Standard in exclusive interviews said that following the abduction, they have traveled to a camp near Shire where the Eritrean troops were said to have been stationed in search of their loved ones but upon reaching there, they learnt that the troops have already left the camp and took the abducted youths with them.

A family member of one of the abducted youth who prefer anonymity, said that some family members of the 10 young men traveled to Shire after one among the abductees sent a text message to them that they were around Shire.

“We have traveled to Shire to meet them and see their situations, but we could not find them,” he told Addis Standard.

The father of two other abductees who also spoke with Addis Standard said that his two sons along with his nephews were abducted and that he doesn’t know their whereabouts.

“We have stayed for four days in Shire and others went to Shiraro to find the whereabouts of the young boys but none of us succeeded to find them,” he said, adding that, “the youngsters were not members the Tigray combatants rather they are innocent civilians who were working in the area to support their family”.

Families of the abducted youngsters who talked to Addis Standard on conditions of unanimity for fear of safety said that they have no any information about neither the locations nor the situations of their sons.

“We told our case to the head of Eastern zone security, and he ordered us to return to our villages promising us to inform the relevant body, then we went back home without knowing the situation of our children,” the father said.

“We are aware of this abduction of youths by the Eritrean troops, we have also informed the concerned regional government bodies about it”

Abeba Tesfay, Administrator of Laelay Maychew district

“We do not know where our sons are and we want the concerned bodies to support us in bringing our children back home,” he added.

Another eyewitness and also a family member to one of the abductees said that, “the youth were abducted while they were mining gold around a river called Mai Shek”.

According to the eyewitness account of the abduction, the Eritrean troops came to the river where there were at least 40 people around Mai Shek area who were engaged in traditional mining and washing golds and gathered all of them in one place, including the women and the elderly whom they brutally beat having tied their arms behind their back. They released the women the elderly afterwards and took 12 youngsters to their camp. Two of the abductees were released a day later and the remaining ten, aged between 16 and 24, were taken to an unidentified place unknown to families by the time Eritrean forces left Axum on 20 January 2023.

Abeba Tesfay, the Administrator of Laelay Maychew district, which surrounds the city of Axum, has confirmed to Addis Standard that nine young men are abducted from Endabagabir village in Aksum were taken to unknown place by Eritrean troops.

“We are aware of this abduction of youths by the Eritrean troops, we have also informed the concerned regional government bodies about it,” Abeba said.

Abeba, who recently returned to the area after Eritrean troops who occupied the place have pulled back to the border areas, further said that the abduction happened during Eritrean troops occupation of the area a few weeks ago, and was confirmed by members of local administration who remained there in hiding.

Eritrean forces who fought alongside the Ethiopian federal forces and allied militias from neighboring Amhara region throughout the two years war in Tigray have been accused of committing massacres and atrocities that may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, according to rights groups.

The city of Axum is in particular synonymous with a gruesome massacre of hundreds of civilians, including children as young as 13, which took place end of in November 2020. The massacre is one of the well documented massacres committed by Eritreans forces, which was also admitted by the Federal Attorney General (FAG) which promised to investigate and hold perpetrators to account.

Eritrean forces are also accused of summarily executing hundreds of women and children, killing civilians, ransacking, destroying, and looting properties even after the peace deal was signed.

Despite the peace agreement between the federal government and the Tigrayan authorities that dictates terms for the withdrawal of Eritrean troops from Tigray, in a recent statement given to local media, Getachew Reda, advisor of Tigray’s leader Debretsion Gebremichael (PhD), and a member of the peace negotiation team, said that despite the withdrawal of Eritrean forces in large units, Tigrayan authorities know that “there are areas” where they still operate in smaller unites. “We brought this up in our discussion,” Getachew said referring to the recent meeting held between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Tigrayan officials. “They have been asked to leave by the Ethiopian government.” He also said that their withdrawal from some areas of Tigray has been confirmed by the monitoring team of the African Union.

However, he said that there were activities of the Eritrean army in some areas in the region. These areas include Adiaybo, in the north Western part of Tigray and Irob, in the north eastern part of Tigray, where Getachew said was creating a “very serious” situation. It has been agreed that the Federal Defense Forces should be fully deployed in these areas to protect the border, he said, adding that federal forces should continue making sure the complete withdrawal.

The report on the continued presence of Eritrean forces contradicts a claim made by an Ethiopian army general who said there was no other security forces in the Tigray region other than the federal army.

In a rare remark about the two years war in the Northern Tigray region of Ethiopia and the peace deal that ended it, Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, said on Sunday that, “accusations against Eritrea that it didn’t withdraw [from Tigray], that its troops killed people.., are detraction from the implementation of the peace agreement.” AS

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