Wednesday 26 May 2021, at 10:54 in Africa Today

[Rough translation of an article published on Le Journal de l’Afrique]

On the margins of the diplomatic hostilities between Ethiopia and the United States since Sunday, Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers have begun emptying refugee camps of Tigrayan civilians. An act that heralds ethnic segregation for genocidal purposes.

Between Monday night and Tuesday morning, Eritrean and Ethiopian soldiers detained hundreds of women and men in four refugee camps in northern Tigray. According to reports, the soldiers acted on orders from the Ethiopian military authority.

The war in Tigray has known [seen] crimes against civilians for many months. However, the expulsion of refugees on the basis of their ethnicity is a first, even in Ethiopia. These abuses are taking place in the midst of a standoff between Washington and Addis Ababa.

Indeed, the American Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that the United States will impose heavy sanctions on Ethiopia. A statement that was echoed in Addis Ababa, where the Minister of Foreign Affairs said that “Ethiopia will be forced to re-evaluate its relations with the United States. According to Demeke Mekonnen: “This decision will have implications beyond our bilateral relations,” he said.

Indeed, not only does Ethiopia provide the bulk of the troops for African Union (AU) missions in Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia. But Ethiopia is a key partner of the United States in monitoring armed groups in the Horn of Africa. Emboldened by impunity, the Ethiopian army decided to provoke the international community by chasing Tigrayans from refugee camps.

Diplomatic intrigues

Last Friday, Ethiopia said it had convicted soldiers for war crimes committed in Tigray. It has also insisted that court records will not be published. The Ethiopian government is under increasing pressure from foreign countries. However, the United States only firmed up its position last Sunday.

The point of disagreement would be the longevity of the war, which Abiy Ahmed had ensured would be swift. Also, the Ethiopian army’s treatment of the Tigrayans, as well as the Eritrean intervention, have put Ethiopia’s allies in a difficult position. To compensate for this “bad publicity”, the Ethiopian government has classified the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) as a “terrorist group”. This fact was not shared by the United States, which aggravated the disagreement. The good relationship between Ethiopia and China also provides a hostile context.

Demeke Mekonnen said yesterday: “What is even sadder is that the U.S. administration treats us as equal to the TPLF. This group has been designated as a terrorist organization for two weeks.

The European Union (EU) had suspended Ethiopian budget support for more than a month. This decision followed reports of civilian killings, rape and looting in Tigray. At the end of April, the U.S. deployed an aid package to counteract the European sanctions. This makes the latest U.S. announcement a 180 degree turnaround.

An ethnic war or a gentle genocide?

Even more serious is the involvement of Eritrean soldiers in the attack on the refugee camps in the Shire region. The Ethiopian Prime Minister announced on March 26 that Eritrean soldiers were leaving Tigray. Eritrea’s information minister, Yemane Gebremeskel, denied the events of Tuesday. He said there was “no reason to round up IDPs” in Tigray. He also described the information as “TPLF propaganda. The Ethiopian army has yet to comment on the news.

Nevertheless, the acting head of the Shire, Tewodoros Aregai, told Reuters that there have been “hundreds of arrests”. According to the UNHCR, the detainees numbered more than 500 people from the Tigray ethnic group. If we are to believe the testimonies, the figure would be around three times as many. And it would indeed be an act of segregation to deprive Tigrayans of humanitarian aid. Relatives of the detainees demonstrated outside the UN offices last night.

Since the start of the Eritrean-Ethiopian offensive in Tigray, more than 2 million people have been displaced. Almost all of these people are in need of humanitarian assistance. However, the armies of the attacking countries have imposed an embargo on humanitarian organizations. Only members of the UN mission are allowed to enter the area. In addition, most of the supplies they carry are taken away from them. If the Tigrayans are prevented from entering the refugee camps, with the war raging, it would amount to ethnic genocide, with hunger and thirst as weapons.