Ethiopia talks amnesty to Tigray amid accusations of refugee abuse
Saturday September 18 2021
A JOINT REPORT
Ethiopia is offering amnesty to warring youth in Tigray region to dissuade them from fighting for rebels, even as Addis Ababa faced another round of accusations of atrocities against Eritrean refugees.
A tweet by the Ethiopian National Defence Forces (ENDF) earlier last week, calling out for those who want to quit fighting, has now been retweeted by government officials including diplomats.
On Thursday, Billene Seyoum, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s Press Secretary said it was a “human” gesture to the youth whom she said have been trapped in war as a form of survival.
“These are citizens who are being flogged to the TPLF, outside of their desire, to fight in the war because it is the only way to get food and survive,” she told the media in Addis Ababa. “This is a message to the Tigray region as well as our brothers and sisters in the diaspora who keep fuelling this senseless war.”
The ENDF had initially dangled amnesty for key generals in the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) — the proscribed rebel group that was once a ruling party in Ethiopia. When Addis Ababa launched an onslaught on TPLF in November last year, it publicised a list of more than 90 military chiefs, senior government officials and diplomats it said were wanted to answer charges of insurrection. Few surrendered, others like former diplomat Seyoum Mesfin were killed in their bunker, but others remain at large.
The amnesty announcement was made amid a push by Ethiopia’s international partners to resume talks between the government and the TPLF. Officials in Addis Ababa did not clarify whether the offer was the first step to improve contact with the TPLF. Ms Billene said the amnesty will allow the surrendered youth to get humanitarian assistance as well as opportunities to earn a living.
At the time, the hunt or surrender was dangled to the heads of TPLF or their main financiers. After they didn’t turn up, the government froze the accounts of suspects and their organisations.
Ethiopia’s war in Tigray, officially known as the Law Enforcement Operation, has been costly both in terms of finances and human life. On Thursday, Human Rights Watch said sheltered Eritrean refugees in Tigray were raped, arrested and killed by parties to the conflict including Eritrean troops.
In a new report, the rights group said the different forms of abuses were committed by Eritrean government forces and Tigrayan militias. It said the abuses committed against the Eritrean refugees amount to war crimes.
Eritrean refugees have been attacked both by the very forces they fled back home and by Tigrayan fighters," said Laetitia Bader, Horn of Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
Since January, the international Rights Watch dog has interviewed 28 Eritrean refugees: 23 former residents of Hitsats camp; five former residents of Shimelba camp; two residents of the town of Hitsats who had witnessed the abuses by Eritrean forces and local Tigrayan militia.