News: Foreign Ministry Spokesperson contradicts army commander, Mekelle interim mayor & Rights Commission report on Eritrean forces involvement in armed conflict in Tigray

Ambassador Dina Mufti. Picture: MoFA/January 20/2020 

Addis Standard staffs

Addis Abeba, January 21/2020 – Ambassador Dina Mufti, Spokesperson of Ethiopia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has contradicted proven reports of Eritrea’s presence and participation in the armed conflict in Tigray.

Ambassador Dina denied Eritrean troops’ participation at a press briefing he gave to local media on January 20. “We have seen reports about Eritrean troops that have crossed into Ethiopia to help the government of Ethiopia during its law enforcement operation in Tigray and the measures taken against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF),” the Spokesperson said.

His assertion is in direct contradiction of the remarks by Major General Belay Seyoum, Commander of the Northern Command, and Atakilti Hailesilasie, the federally appointed interim mayor of Mekelle City. It also goes against latest report by Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) whose investigators filed firsthand accounts from residents of Humera confirming the presence and participation in widespread looting of “Eritrean soldiers.”

In a meeting with the residents of Mekelle city, the Capital of Tigray held on December 27/2020 at Hawulti Semaetat hall, Maj. Gen. Belay candidly admitted that his “conscience does not allow” him to say “Eritrean army come and help us.” Responding to questions which included the issue of sovereignty, Maj. gen. Belay said the army didn’t want an “alien army” to came in. “We know the problems that are being raised, it’s painful,” he said, but blamed it on Tigray government’s forces who “left” the border open by attacking members of the national defense forces. “We don’t want it; we personally feel as a defense force; it is our country,” Maj. Gen. Belay said.

Maj. Gen. Belay’s response was followed shortly by another remark, this time from Atakilti Hailesilasie, the federally appointed interim mayor of Mekelle City. Confronted with the similar question during a town hall meeting with the residents of Mekelle, Atakliti said Eritrean forces entered because there was no other defense. “But it was also announced that they were being withdrawn from the country in a short time. It is a mistake to associate this with the interim administration,” Atakliti said. Later on he confirmed to Addis Standard that what he said was similar to what Maj. Gen. Belay said. “I just repeated what Major General Belay Seyoum said at an earlier meeting held at Hawulti Semaetat hall as this question was repeatedly raised by the people,” Ataklti said on the phone.

Similarly, the latest report released by EHRC cited first hand witness accounts of residents of Humera city who reported “widespread looting of houses and businesses, by a youth group calling itself “Fano”, some members of the Amhara Liyu Hayl (Amhara Special Force) and Amhara Militia, a few members of the Ethiopian Defense Force, and some Eritrean soldiers.”

Although the remarks from the Commander of the North Command based in Tigray and the interim mayor of Mekelle were the first time Ethiopian officials openly admitted to the presence of Eritrean forces, citing U.S. government sources, humanitarian agencies and satellite images, several leading international media, including the New York Times, Reuters, and Bloomberg, have already reported about it. But both Addis Abeba and Asmara have vehemently denied these reports.

The latest denial is Ambassador Dina Mufti’s statement. “The ENDF has a track record of supporting the peacekeeping and peace building efforts of the UN, let alone carrying out law enforcement operations domestically. Thus, there has never been a need from the Ethiopian side to request a third party involvement in the matter. The issue has been entertained by some circles that wanted to portray the operation as a regional-level conflict,” he said.

However, Ambassador Dina said it is “expected (and should not be surprising) to see the deployment of Eritrean soldiers by the Eritrean government around its border areas with Ethiopia, given the belligerent attitude of the TPLF …that had posed an imminent danger to the sovereignty of Eritrea by launching missiles to civilian sites in Asmara.”

The Spokesperson also responded to latest allegations of the involvement of troops from Somalia in the armed conflict in Tigray. Citing its sources, Somali Guardian reported earlier this week that dozens of Somali troops who were trained in Eritrea were use as “cannon fodder in the recent offensive in Tigray region.” The Ambassador said “similar reports about Somalian soldiers participating in the same campaign are “false and unfounded.”

The news of Somalian troops participation is also denied by the federal government of Somalia. However, in a letter dated on 18 January, the parliamentary committee on foreign relations has asked President Mohammed Farmajo “to clarify on the mysterious situation of alleged youths missing in action,” in Tigray’s conflict in Ethiopia. Abdulkadir Osoble ,Leader of Ileys Party and Member of Somali Federal Parliament & Chair of Foreign Relations Committee, tweeted the letter on January 20. AS

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