You are currently viewing News Analysis: US says withdrawal of Eritrean, Amhara, Afar forces from Tigray part of peace agreement; threatens sanctions if agreement not heeded

News Analysis: US says withdrawal of Eritrean, Amhara, Afar forces from Tigray part of peace agreement; threatens sanctions if agreement not heeded

Picture captured by Reuters journalists shows “Eritrean soldiers in Shire, and main road Between Mekelle & Shire.” Dawit Endeshaw. March 2021 Archive

Addis Ababa – A senior U.S. government official told reporters yesterday that the Permanent Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (CoHA) between the federal government and representatives of the Tigray regional states signed in South Africa, Pretoria, on 02 November “calls for the withdrawal of […] not only Eritrean forces, but Amhara special forces & Afar militia that are currently in Tigray” and that the U.S will not hesitate to use sanction if the “commitments aren’t abided by.”

In a special briefing session on 15 November, a senior official of US State Department recalled that military leaders of the two parties have further agreed in Nairobi on the withdrawal of foreign and non-ENDF forces from Tigray region which would be done concurrently with the disarmament of Tigrayan combatants. 

“This is significant because it was the first acknowledgement in essence that there are Eritrean forces operating inside of Ethiopia, and there is now a clear understanding that they are to withdraw”, the unnamed senior official said, adding “the United States always has at its disposal as a policy tool the prospect of sanctions, and we will not hesitate to deploy them if that should become necessary in terms of holding actors accountable for human rights violations or for the purposes of trying to ensure that this agreement is respected and abided.”

Although under “Article 8 – International Boundaries and Federal Facilities,” of the Pretoria CoHA it is stated that “the ENDF shall be deployed along the international boundaries of Ethiopia,” and it “shall safeguard the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and security of the country from foreign incursion and ensure that there will be no provocation or incursion,” there is no mention of which “foreign incursion” was referred to.

Eritrea’s involvement in the Tigray war was known to US government as early as December 2020. In September this year, the U.S. said it “condemn[s] Eritrea’s reentry” into the resumption of militarized hostilities on 24 August; and on 20 September its Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Mike Hammer, told media that the U.S. was “tracking” Eritrean troop movements along the Ethiopian border. The Envoy’s remark came shortly after Tigrayan authorities said that “Eritrean forces have launched full scale offensive in all fronts today,” and days after news reports emerged that Eritrea was “mobilizing” its military reservist.

The presence of Eritrean forces on the ground has been accompanied by acts of atrocities they committed against Tigrayan civilians, which has long been documented by human rights organizations, including the state backed Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC), highlighting “grave human rights violations and an attack against civilians in Axum city, Tigray region.

Regardless of the evidence, however, the texts of the CoH agreement signed in Pretoria and the subsequent Declaration of Executive plan signed in Nairobi both failed to directly mention the invasion of Eritrean forces.

Similarly, both texts failed to mention the forceful occupation of Western Tigray by forces from the neighboring Amhara regional state. Although Article 10/4 of the Pretoria agreement stated that the two parties “commit to resolving issues of contested areas in accordance with the Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia”, the absence of direct mention of the withdrawal of Amhara regional state forces from western Tigray Region has subjected the agreement to different interpretations among various political actors.

The war in western Tigray and the involvement of Amhara region forces has seen one of the worst violations of human rights in the broader context of the war, and has been described by the US as acts of “ethnic cleansing.” A joint report by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International has also documented “Crimes against Humanity and Ethnic Cleansing in Ethiopia’s Western Tigray Zone.”

The US government has been repeatedly calling on the withdrawal of both from Tigray region. In a telephone call with prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on 06 July 2021, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken affirmed the US policy that “neither the internal nor external borders of Ethiopia will be changed by force or in contravention of the constitution.”

In his address to the national Parliament on Tuesday, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed hinted at resolving the territorial “dispute” in accordance with the “rule of the law” of the country but failed to address Eritrea’s involvement.

In addition to directly addressing the withdrawal of Eritrean forces, as well as forces from Amhara and Afar regional states, the unnamed US official also touched on the issues of accountability for human rights violation and said that it “was very much a point of focus in the initial talks in Pretoria and continued on in Nairobi.”

“…it has been expressed that there needs to be, absolutely needs to be accountability for gross violations of human rights” he said, adding that the US “encourages that there be international monitoring and assistance and investigation in support of those efforts.  It is important that there’s a commitment to transitional justice.” AS

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