Addis Ababa: The federal army of Ethiopia's ally is carrying out mass detentions and property looting in Tigray, according to eyewitnesses and aid workers.
More than three weeks after the warring sides signed a ceasefire that diplomats and others hoped would end suffering in the restive region home to more than 5 million people, the accounts raise new concerns about alleged atrocities. Huh.
Even after the 2 November ceasefire agreement was signed in South Africa, Tigray is still largely cut off from the rest of Ethiopia. However, aid delivery has resumed in the region.
Human rights researchers have little or no access to the area, which makes it challenging for journalists and others to obtain information from Tigray as Ethiopian forces continue to assert control over it.
Two aid workers in Shire, a northwestern town taken from Tigray forces last month, told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of security concerns that Eritrean troops and forces from the neighboring Ethiopian region of Amhara — which are fighting Businesses, private properties, vehicles and health clinics have been looted - on the side of the Ethiopian federal army in the Tigray conflict.
Aid workers reported that several youths had been abducted by Eritrean soldiers in Shire. Following the capture of Shire, a town with a significant number of internally displaced people, a witness claimed that "over 300" youths were being rounded up by Ethiopian federal troops in several waves of mass detention.
Aid workers said Ethiopian federal troops were detaining individuals they believed to be "associated" with the Tigray People's Liberation Front, or TPLF, the political organization whose leaders oversee the conflict with the federal government. The aid worker said, "There are various detention centers around the city."
Civilians suspected of aiding Tigray forces are being held in the southern city of Almata, according to a local who claimed Amhara forces had detained several of his friends.
In the town of Korem, about 20 kilometers (12 mi) north of Almaty, as well as in the surrounding countryside, Amhara forces are also carrying out "mass" arrests, according to a former regional official.
To protect his safety and avoid retribution, the Almaty resident and former regional official, like some others the AP spoke to, asked to remain anonymous.
The US has demanded that Eritrean troops leave the region as their continued presence in Tigray remains a contentious issue in the ongoing peace process.
A request for comment by Ethiopia's military spokesman and communications minister was ignored. The Ethiopian Embassy in Eritrea also did not respond.
The text of the cease-fire agreement makes no mention of Eritrea, which borders Tigray. It was questioned whether Eritrea's repressive government, which has long viewed the Tigray authorities as a threat, would uphold the agreement in light of Eritrea's absence from the ceasefire talks.
According to an implementation agreement signed by military leaders in Kenya, the Tigray army will deactivate its heavy weapons following the withdrawal of foreign and non-(federal) forces from the region.
However, aid workers, diplomats and others in Tigray claim that Eritrean forces are still present in many areas of the country, harming the peace process. Eritrean forces have been held responsible for some of the worst abuses committed during the conflict, such as gang rapes.
In an area called Agela in central Tigray, Eritrean soldiers killed 63 civilians, including 10 children, according to Tigray Television, a local broadcaster based in the Tigrayan capital of Mekelle. One of the witnesses who claimed that affected communities were being prevented from burying their dead was quoted in that report.
In a phone call on Monday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed discussed the importance of completing the peace deal, "including the withdrawal of all foreign forces and the concurrent disarmament of Tigray forces."
On 17 November, a humanitarian worker informed the Associated Press that four youths had been executed by Eritrean forces in the city of Tigray, northwest of Axum. The humanitarian activist claimed that "the killings have not stopped despite the peace agreement" and that "only Eritrean forces are responsible for the killings in Axum."
According to a statement released last week by Tigray's communications bureau, the Eritrean army "continues to commit horrific atrocities in Tigray". In that statement, it was claimed that Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki was "bringing more units into Tigray", despite the expectation of withdrawing his troops following a ceasefire agreement.
After a lull of several months, the brutal fighting resumed in Tigray in August. Last year, the fighting had erupted into the Amhara and Afar regions as Tigray forces advanced on the federal capital.
Two years of restrictions on aid have left Tigray in the midst of a severe humanitarian crisis. A UN panel of experts came to the conclusion that Ethiopia's government probably used "starvation as a method of warfare" against the area as a result of these restrictions.
Tigray civilians are not being targeted, according to Ethiopian authorities, who claim that their objective is to capture the rebel leaders in the area.
In spite of the African Union-led cease-fire, the majority of Tigray still lacks access to basic services like banking, phone, and electricity. According to US estimates, thousands of people could have died in the conflict, which was characterised by atrocities on all sides.
According to the terms of the cease-fire agreement, federal authorities must enable "unrestricted humanitarian access" to Tigray. 96 trucks of food and fuel have been sent to Tigray since the agreement, according to the World Food Program, even though access to some areas of central and eastern Tigray is still "constrained."
Despite the volume of trucks entering the area, unhindered access into Tigray has not yet been granted and there are still a number of restrictions in place, a aid worker said on Friday.
The amount of money that humanitarian organisations are permitted to bring into Tigray is restricted, and checkpoints and military leaders obstruct aid workers' movements within the area, according to the aid worker.