The United States has expressed deep concern over disturbing reports of ethnic killings, sexual assaults and forced displacement in the Tigray region at the hands of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces.
“The United States is gravely concerned by reported atrocities and the overall deteriorating situation in the Tigray region of Ethiopia,” the Biden-Harris administration said in a statement.
“We strongly condemn the killings, forced removals and displacements, sexual assaults, and other extremely serious human rights violations and abuses by several parties that multiple organizations have reported in Tigray.”
Washington called on the Ethiopian authorities to put an immediate end to hostilities and engage in meaningful dialogue with the TPLF leadership.
“We are also deeply concerned by the worsening humanitarian crisis. The United States has repeatedly engaged the Ethiopian government on the importance of ending the violence, ensuring unhindered humanitarian access to Tigray, and allowing a full, independent, international investigation into all reports of human rights violations, abuses, and atrocities. Those responsible for them must be held accountable.”
“The United States acknowledges the February 26 statements from the Ethiopian Office of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs promising unhindered humanitarian access, welcoming international support for investigations into human rights violations and abuses, and committing to full accountability. The international community needs to work collectively to ensure that these commitments are realized.”
The United States demanded the immediate withdrawal of the Eritrean forces that have participated in the ongoing military operations in the Tigray region since the onset of the conflict on November 4, 2021.
“The immediate withdrawal of Eritrean forces and Amhara regional forces from Tigray are essential first steps. They should be accompanied by unilateral declarations of cessation of hostilities by all parties to the conflict and a commitment to permit unhindered delivery of assistance to those in Tigray.”
“The United States is committed to working with the international community to achieve these goals. To that end, USAID will deploy a Disaster Assistance Response Team to Ethiopia to continue delivering life-saving assistance.”
“We ask international partners, especially the African Union and regional partners, to work with us to address the crisis in Tigray, including through action at the UN and other relevant bodies. The United States remains committed to building an enduring partnership with the Ethiopian people.”
Members of the Tigray community in the United States issued a brief statement this evening, commending the South Sudanese authorities and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for protecting their sons from what they described as a premeditated “death trap” planned by the Abiy administration.
“We appreciate the Republic of South Sudan and UNHCR for providing protection to our sons after the Ethiopian government had premeditated a “death trap” against them as part of the ongoing Genocide in the Tigray region,” the diaspora community lauded South Sudan in a brief statement extended to Thessherald.
On Monday, a bitter fist fight ensued at Juba International Airport after 15 members of the Ethiopian contingent refused to board a plane, citing fear for their lives.
The brief fighting between the Ethiopian troops serving under the mandate of the United Nations Mission has been confirmed by a top UN official.
“This morning, 169 members of the Ethiopian contingent were due to rotate out of Juba and (be) replaced by fresh contingents, a part of a normal rotation,” said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric during his daily press conference.
“We’re trying to get the details, but I do understand about 15 members of the contingent chose not to board the flight at the Juba airport… They’ve asked to stay,” he said, adding that “any person in need of international protection has the right to seek asylum.”
“They are receiving support from the South Sudanese Ministry of Refugee Affairs,” Dujarric continued, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is “aware” of the situation and in contact with South Sudanese authorities.
Dec 19, 2020 (Thessherald)–The Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, has announced a reward of 10 million birr for anyone who discloses any information or whereabouts of the TPLF leaders who have been on the run since the federal army took over the capital, Mekelle.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, the Head of Information Department at the Ministry of National Defense Force, Lieutenant General Asrat Denero said that the federal forces are on the mission to hunt down the top TPLF leaders and that anyone who discloses their hiding place will walk away with 10 million birr equivalent to $260,926.
“Anyone who provides information on the whereabouts of leaders the TPLF clique will be rewarded 10 million Birr,” the Ethiopian official was quoted as saying.
Since November 4, the federal government has launched a nationwide military campaign in an attempt to capture the leaders of the TPLF headed by Debretsion Gebremichael despite mounting international pressure.
Earlier this week, the European Union cut € 90 million to Ethiopia as a countermeasure to end the ongoing suffering of Eritrean refugees and internally displaced people in the Tigray region.
Dec 14, 2020 (Thessherald)–After more than 40 days of power outages and sudden telco service interruptions in the entire Tigray region, the Ethiopian federal authorities have finally resolved to restore telecommunications services in the regional capital, Mekelle.
“Following destruction to infrastructure by the criminal clique’s militia, which resulted in a communication’s and electricity blackout in the Tigray region, the relevant Federal stakeholders have been on the ground since Mekelle came under Federal command, repairing heavy damages sustained. On December 10, 2020 Ethio Telecom shared in a media briefing the details of infrastructure damages caused to the Mekelle Core Site which resulted in telecom service disruptions in the region as of November 4, 2020,” the statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office partly reads.
“As of December 12, 2020, Ethio Telecom shared that mobile voice services in Mekelle city and Maiychew have been restored, in addition to Dansha, Humera, Maikadra, Turkan, Maytsebri, Korem and Alamata”
The federal government also announced the restoration of power and telephone phone services in other areas around Mekelle that had been cut off from the rest of the world since the ENDF and its allies launched large-scale military operations in the Tigray region.
“As it pertains to electric power services, on December 13, 2020 Ethiopian Electric Power announced that electricity has been restored to Mekelle city and its vicinity. Cities and towns between Mekelle and Alamata have had power disruptions due to conductor and insulator damages sustained to transmission lines.”
“Through the coordinated efforts of two technical teams, in addition to Mekelle and surrounding towns, power has also been restored in the north eastern part of the country – specifically Metema, Humera and Welkayit. Both service providers continue to undertake repair work to enable unhindered service provision in the region,” the statement further added.
Abiy Ahmed, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, has rebuffed international calls for a peace dialogue between his government and leaders of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front who are currently in their hideouts in mountainous areas around Mekelle.
Prime Minister Abiy rejects AU mediation efforts
Last month, the Chairperson of the African Union, Cyril Ramaphosa, sent 3 special envoy to Ethiopia in an effort to bring the warring parties to the negotiating table, however, the Ethiopian premier refused to negotiate with the TPLF leaders.
Currently, more than 50,000 people, predominantly from the Tigray region, have crossed into Sudan in search of safety – and are being sheltered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees under the supervision of the Sudanese government.
In the wake of the endless influx of Ethiopian refugees into Sudan on an almost daily basis, a high-level delegation led by the Sudanese Prime Minister, Abdalla Hamdok, visited Ethiopia on Sunday and had lengthy discussions with Abiy Ahmed on a number of issues ranging from the GERD-related negotiations to regional security.
Dec 11, 2020 (Thessherald)–After receiving credible reports on the ground, the United States has ordered the immediate withdrawal of Eritrean forces from the Tigray region.
“This is a grave development,” a U.S. State Department spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
Last month, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front launched a series of attacks on the Eritrean capital Asmara, blowing up an airport and other facilities –after accusing Eritrea of having involved in the Ethiopian conflict.
The U.S. said it’s also aware of reports of human rights violations in the region, and called for an independent investigation of the matter.
“All parties must respect human rights and international humanitarian law,” the Sate Department said.
Federal government blocks refugees from seeking safety in Addis Ababa.
Today, the federal government ordered the immediate return of Eritrean refugees to their camps in the Tigray region, despite security concerns, a move the United Nations described as “unacceptable”.
“A large number of misinformed Eritrean refugees are moving out in an irregular manner particularly from Mai-Ayni and Adi-Harush refugee camps to Addis Ababa. Such an unregulated movement of the refugees with high dependence on aid will create difficulties in ensuring their safety, security, dignity, and in providing a coordinated protection and assistance. Given the priority the government gives to humanitarian assistance, the refugees were kept in a dignified manner and sheltered and nurtured by the government,” The Ethiopian State of Emergency Task-Force said on Friday.
Claiming that, “Ethiopia has a very long, and cherished history of hospitality and generosity to people who are forcibly displaced due to man-made and natural calamities.”
“The Government is working tirelessly to fully reactivate and continue provision of critical lifesaving services to the refugees as well as to ensure a safe and secured operating environment for frontline responders.
“As a result of which transportation of food to the camps is underway among other things. At this point in time, the areas in Tigray region in which the Eritrean refugee camps are situated are stable given that they are under the full control of the Federal Government.
“With that understanding, therefore, the Government is safely returning those refugees to their respective camps where they can have access to service delivery systems, and more importantly they can live lawfully and peacefully with the communities that host them.”
Amid shifting dynamics in the Horn of Africa, South Sudan finds itself caught in the middle of regional rivalries.
Opinion | BY DANIEL AKECH THIONG
Dec 3, 2020 (Thessherald)–Opinion | On 28 November, Ethiopian federal forces claimed to have captured Mekelle, the capital of the Tigray region. This may be a decisive moment in a conflict that could shape the country and broader Horn of Africa region for years to come.
No doubt recognising this, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was also busy that day. He flew to Juba to hold bilateral talks with South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir. The timing of the meeting raised suspicions that Egypt is exploiting its rival’s internal crisis to assert itself more strongly in the region, particularly regarding its dispute with Ethiopia over the Nile waters.
There have been plenty of changing geopolitical dynamics in the region recently. These have been prompted by a variety of bilateral rivalries, internal conflicts, changes of government and growing external influence.
For South Sudan, these shifts provide both risks and opportunities. They involve several different relationships and uncertain developments, but they ultimately present Juba with two critical decisions to make.
Uganda or Sudan?
Historically, South Sudan has tended to have a hostile relationship with Sudan and positive relations with Uganda. Before South Sudan gained independence in 2011, rebels in the south got help from Uganda in their fight against Sudanese government forces. Following independence, relations between Juba and Khartoum quickly broke down and, when a civil war broke out in 2013, Uganda again provided crucial support to President Kiir’s forces.
More recently, however, some key dynamics have shifted. In 2019, Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir was overthrown after three decades in power. Since then, Khartoum has moved closer to the triumvirate of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt, and away from Turkey, Iran and Qatar. It is in the process of normalising relations with the West and Israel. Moreover, relations with Juba have also become much friendlier. This September, South Sudan even hosted and mediated Sudanese peace talks.
These changes have coincided with the fighting in South Sudan subsiding too. After seven years of conflict and repeated attempts at peace deals, former rebel leader Riek Machar returned to Juba this February to be sworn in as vice-president once again.
Juba’s improved relations with Sudan and the end of its civil war significantly reduces Uganda’s importance. South Sudan’s trade is likely to flow more freely northwards now, rather than through its southern neighbour, and Kampala’s influence looks set to wane.
It remains to be seen how much President Yoweri Museveni attempts to reassert his influence. Several South Sudanese elites have invested heavily in Uganda, offering him some leverage. Meanwhile, Ugandan forces attacked South Sudanese soldiers in a border town in late-October, killing two people and capturing one. This assault could be interpreted as punishment for the military cooperation agreement Juba had signed with Khartoum days earlier.
South Sudan’s government thus faces a challenge in balancing its relations with Sudan and Uganda. On the one hand, Museveni remains a powerful and historically strong partner who could provide a rear base for armed rebels if relations deteriorate as he tries to assert regional hegemony. On the other hand, closer relations with Sudan could help both countries address their security challenges and help South Sudan’s economy, which relies on oil transiting through its northern neighbour.
Egypt or Ethiopia?
The other key balancing act facing South Sudan in its foreign relations is between Egypt and Ethiopia. These dynamics have also shifted recently. Historically, southern Sudan’s rebels were supported by Ethiopia, while Egypt backed the government in Khartoum. But since South Sudan gained independence, calculations have changed.
In the past decade, South Sudan and Egypt have significantly improved relations. Egypt has increased its investment in South Sudan and provided military training to the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). A branch of Alexandria University is set to open in the town of Tonj in 2021. And President al-Sisi flew to Juba for talks with President Kiir last month.
Unfortunately for South Sudan, these links are not distinct from broader regional dynamics. Egypt is currently locked in a dispute with Ethiopia regarding the latter’s construction of the Grand Renaissance Dam upstream on the Nile river. President al-Sisi’s overtures to Juba may well be designed to persuade it to side with Egypt or at least remain neutral in the Nile politics. It may have been timed to capitalise on the possibility that Ethiopia will descend into further instability amid the civil war in Tigray.
This presents Juba with a difficult challenge. On the one hand, closer ties with Egypt could bring political and economic benefits. Moreover, Egypt’s close ties to Sudan may make it difficult for South Sudan to disappoint Cairo without upsetting Khartoum too. On the other hand, closer relations with Egypt could anger Ethiopia, a historically close partner and one that has significant support among the South Sudanese public. It is also the case that a frustrated Addis Ababa could retaliate by providing support or refuge to South Sudanese rebel groups, endangering the country’ fragile peace.
A balancing act
Recent geopolitical shifts in the Horn of Africa have created flux and uncertainty in the region. For South Sudan, this provides both opportunities and dangers. In particular, it finds itself in the middle of rivalries between Sudan and Uganda, and Egypt and Ethiopia. Relations with each of these countries could bring great political and economic benefits to South Sudan, yet each also has a history of supporting different armed forces in South Sudan and could do so again if it wanted to punish Juba or encourage regime change.
For the South Sudanese people, good relations with all four countries and neutrality in regional disputes would likely bring the most sustainable advantages. Juba could enhance this possibility by pushing for regional intervention to deescalate tensions and resolve the conflict in Ethiopia.
It remains to be seen, however, whether this kind of balancing act is one that Juba can walk and one that its partners will allow it to take.
Nov 28, 2020 (Thessherald)–The Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed has announced that the Ethiopian National Defense Force will now scale down ‘main’ military operations in the Tigray region after seizing the capital, Mekelle.
“The Federal government is now fully in control of the city of Mekelle. With full command of the regional capital, this marks the completion of the ENDF’s last phase [operation],” Abiy announced this evening.”
Abiy pointed out that the federal police forces will now continue with a specific law enforcement operation and hunt down the TPLF leaders in their hideouts.
“Federal police will now continue their task of apprehending TPLF criminals and bring them to the court of law.”
He further claimed that his forces, after engaging in fierce fighting with the TPLF forces, had rescued thousands of soldiers held as hostages for weeks.
“The ENDF has thus far managed to secure the release of thousands of Northern Command officers held hostage by TPLF Secured the Northern Command camp Take control of the airport, public institutions, the Regional administration office and other critical facilities.”
“The main operation is successfully concluded,” the Ethiopian leader declared.
He also said that the ENDF inflicted no casualties on the civilian population, a claim that could not be easily verify as the other side to the conflict remains unreasonable.
“The ENDF undertake the operation with precision and due care for citizens ensuring civilians are not targeted The people of the Tigray Region have provided utmost support and cooperation to the Ethiopian National Defense Force in all corners.”
Nov 28, 2020 (Thessherald)–South Sudan President Salva Kiir Mayardit and his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah El-Sisi will discuss a wide range of regional issues including the ongoing crisis in neighboring Ethiopia, according to a senior government official in the presidency.
“The ongoing instability in Ethiopia, particularly, in the Tigray region, among other pressing issues, will be at the centre of discussion between the two heads of state,” said the official, who requested anonymity.
On Friday, the Office of the President confirmed that President Kiir and the visiting Egyptian leader, Al-Sisi will address a number of regional issues, but stopped short of giving more details about the main agenda.
“They will discuss bilateral issues and exchange views on regional stability as well as deepening South Sudan’s and Egypt diplomatic ties,” the Presidency announced ahead El-Sisi visit on Saturday.
Egyptian leader El-Sisi arrives in Juba
A plane carrying the Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, and his accompanying delegation has finally touched down at Juba International Airport, the first Egyptian head of state to visit the Republic of South Sudan.
Nov 28, 2020 (Thessherald)–Fighting between the Ethiopian army and Tigray forces has arrived near the region’s biggest city, home to half a million residents. Addis Ababa should pause hostilities, all sides should minimise harm to civilians and the AU should step up efforts to avert further bloodshed.
lasting damage to the country. Following the African Union’s lead, the U.S., the European Union and the UN Security Council should urge Addis Ababa to suspend the assault and convey to all sides that an already blood-soaked military campaign would be enormously damaging to the country’s well-being and international repute.
It is not too late to avert more civilian deaths, nor to avoid a bloody confrontation that could inflict lasting damage to the country.
Civilians in Tigray have paid a heavy price since the conflict began on 4 November. More than 40,000 refugees have fled west Tigray towns such as Humera and Dansha into eastern Sudan, with some having to swim across rivers to get to safety. According to the United Nations, at least 600,000 people in Tigray depended on food aid before the conflict and have not received their rations this month. Fuel and other essentials are also running low in Mekelle. Thousands have died in the fighting, including many civilians as well as security forces.
The communications blackout and blockade of air and road access to the region from within Ethiopia is affecting the humanitarian response. Federal forces and Sudanese troops are reported to have shuttered Tigray’s main external supply line through eastern Sudan.
All sides are reported to have committed atrocities. An Ethiopian Human Rights Commission preliminary report blamed Tigrayan militia for killing hundreds of mostly Amhara civilians in Maykadra town in west Tigray on 9 November. Tigrayan refugees in camps have reported atrocities by Amhara militia who have been fighting alongside the federal military, including in that same town.
All sides are reported to have committed atrocities.
Federal officials in Addis Ababa argue they are acting to bring to heel rebellious Tigrayan leaders whom they accuse of undermining stability across Ethiopia since they were squeezed out of power at the national level in 2018. They maintain that the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), Tigray’s ruling party, started the war by killing dozens of soldiers in an attack on a federal military base on 4 November, and that Tigrayan leaders’ objective is to ensure they enjoy immunity for “past and present misdeeds” and continue to exercise control far in excess of the TPLF’s limited nationwide support. They characterise the conflict as a “law and order operation”, which they predict will end rapidly.
Addis Ababa is intent on securing a military victory and rejects the idea of negotiations, saying that Tigray’s leaders cannot be allowed to get away with attacking the national military and violating the constitution, which it claims occurred when Tigray ran a regional election in September in defiance of federal rulings.
Officials in Addis Ababa argue that allowing the TPLF to get away with its actions would set a destabilising precedent that would incentivise future acts of rebellion. They claim that entering into dialogue would reward the illegal actions of the TPLF, whose leadership they now label a “junta” or “clique”, for the 4 November attacks, which they describe as a “treasonous act”. On 27 November, Abiy met three envoys appointed by AU chair Cyril Ramaphosa and told them he would not engage in talks with the TPLF. He said dialogue with Tigray’s ruling party would “nurture a culture of impunity with devastating cost to the survival of the country”.
In the event they do not leave, fails to discriminate between them and combatants, would be a clear violation of international law and would badly damage the Ethiopian government’s international reputation.
The likely bloodbath that would ensue would deepen the enmity between those facing off against each other and risk further alienating swathes of the civilian population in Tigray. Tigrayan officers, civil servants and others reportedly are being ethnically profiled outside of Tigray, and many echo the Tigrayan leaders’ claim that this is an attack on the entire group, a sentiment that may seed support for secession.
Given what a military offensive by Addis Ababa – even one that is successful on its own terms – would entail and what it would provoke, all sides should accept a deal to suspend hostilities. AU chair Ramaphosa, who has consistently called for talks, should appeal to Prime Minister Abiy to scrap or at least extend the ultimatum his government issued.
The chances of a negotiated agreement to end the fighting, let alone reach a longer-term solution to a bitter constitutional dispute, are vanishing quickly, given Addis Ababa’s determination to secure control of the city and bring TPLF leaders to justice. Although it has lately called for talks, the TPLF, too, raised its own obstacles to dialogue before the conflict by declaring the federal government illegitimate. Ethiopia’s partners, from regional leaders to the AU to the EU and UN Security Council members, should not give up in pointing out to Abiy’s government that Ethiopia’s problems ultimately need to be resolved politically, through talks, and not through force.
The most urgent need now is to save lives.
The most urgent need now is to save lives. Entering a heavily populated metropolis with artillery and air power, as an Ethiopian military spokesman warned federal forces will do imminently, would exact an enormous, intolerable toll on civilians and badly damage Ethiopia’s international repute, at a time when voices of concern from many of Ethiopia’s partners are growing. Addis Ababa should agree to pause hostilities and, whether or not an offensive goes ahead, all sides should strictly respect international law, which means doing everything feasible to avoid or minimise loss of civilian life and refraining from using civilians as human shields.
In parallel to efforts to avert a humanitarian crisis, Ethiopia’s partners should continue to press the message that the answer to the country’s deep political fault lines will not come on the battlefield.