News Highlights Extra No. 5: Conflict in the Horn

EEPA is sending extra news highlights on the conflict in the Horn of Africa: previous highlights extra and EEPA’s situation reports on the Horn crisis.

Fighting continues in various location
It is reported that fighting in Tigray is ongoing in Hagere Selam, between Wukro and Adigrat, as well as Samre, Dogu’a, and Kolla Tembien, May Tsemre, and around Maychew. Reports from the ground indicate severe bombings of Tembien by the Ethiopian National Defence Forces (ENDF). It is reported that the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) is conscripting in Mekelle. Ethiopian Government forces say they have seized 140 trucks filled with explosives and military supplies. Experts analysing satellite pictures believe it likely that thousands of households are affected by plots and homesteads having been burnt. An observer on the ground reported ghost towns and systematic ethnic cleansing. Several mass killings have been reported, including in Tembien. No reliable information has been received about the fate of the Catholic Bishop Tesfaselassie Medhin and his priests from the Eparchy of Adigrat, Tigray, since the start of the conflict. A witness of attacks on the Eritrean refugee camps in Tigray reports: “Some of the soldiers were Eritreans, some of them were (Ethiopian) federal soldiers […] They were shooting at all people. All — women, men, children.” 

Situation in Tigray
AFP reports civilians inside Tigray have said that the military has violently enforced a curfew and that many people have been killed by soldiers during the enforcement. Eritrean soldiers are said to be among the patrolling soldiers, in line with reports from social media. Other testimonies involve Ethiopian National Defence Forces carrying out violence, including extrajudicial killings, against civilian populations in Tigray. Over 200 people have reportedly been killed in the Tigray town of Wukro and the town is now deserted. Other reports of killings, including of youth protecting factories against looting, are circulating. The Ethiopian government denies involvement in the killings. Furthermore, increasing messages on social media allege that systematic starvation is used as a weapon of war in Tigray, and are calling for the UN Security Council to step in. The banks are closed in the Tigray capital of Mekelle, and food and water shortages are reported; phone lines in Mekelle have been partially restored, but not elsewhere in Tigray. It was reported that non-Tigrayan students of Mekelle University and students from Adigrat were evacuated via Eritrea when attacks started.

Human rights violations and ethnic profiling intensifies
The UN Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect offered its support to Ethiopia to address hate speech and prevent incitement to violence in the country. Reports talk of the kidnapping of a wealthy Tigrayan business man from Tigray by Eritrean Troops near Adigrat. The newly installed administration in Tigray has called on all Tigrayans that own weapons to bring these weapons to security services. The New York Times reports that ethnic Tigrayans in Ethiopia are “treated like criminal suspects and subjected to various forms of discrimination, harassment, and abuse by government officials.” Ethnic profiling of Tigrayans was also reported among Addis Ababa police. Human Rights Watch reports that the impact of conflict in Tigray is felt throughout Ethiopia by Tigrayans, including discrimination, arbitrary detention, house searches, work suspensions, and restrictions to travel. The Early Warning Project, a project that assesses the risk of mass atrocities, warns there is a 1 in 15 chance of mass killings in Ethiopia at the end of this year or the beginning of next year. 

Regional dimensions of the conflict
Reports continue to come in of Eritrean soldiers, including national service recruits forced to fight, and looting by Eritrean troops. The U.S. State Department warns any Eritrean forces in Ethiopia to withdraw, after finding reports of their presence there to be ‘credible’. Goods looted from Tigray are stocked outside of the Eritrean capital of Asmara, in Ashagolgol: a military area. Catholic Church and elders in Eritrea have asked Eritreans not to purchase the cheap goods originating from Tigray. Eritrea president Isaias Afewerki has met with Saudi Arabia and has established a joint committee of a common vision. President Hamdok of Sudan, chair of IGAD, visited Addis Ababa, accompanied by Sudanese security officials, and reportedly planned “to present his concerns about threats to Sudan’s security along its border with Tigray” during the visit to Addis Ababa. The visit was supposed to last 2 days but was cut short after 2 hours. 

Humanitarian aid to provide support remains difficult amid reports of killed humanitarian workers
Janez Lenarčič, the EU commissioner for Crisis Management, states that he condemns “the killing of four humanitarian workers in a refugee camp in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, including three staff members from the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) and one from International Rescue Committee (IRC).” A statement has been made by IRC on the death of their colleagues who sought to provide support and assistance to the most vulnerable in this conflict. With the ongoing conflict, the international community calls to ensure that humanitarian workers are able to provide aid without fear of attack or being killed. The UN states that 2.3 million children have been cut from aid in Tigray. UNHCR reports that over 63,000 people are displaced internally; the reported numbers are expected to increase as access to Tigray increases. Reports from Adi Harush refugee camp indicate that aid has arrived there. 

Situation of refugees
Eritrean refugees that had fled to the capital city of Addis Ababa were forced to return to the Eritrean refugee camps. After having been on the road without communication, they arrived back under armed guard to the refugee camps. Eritrean refugees under international protection in four camps in Tigray report they were shot at by Eritrean and Ethiopian troops. UNHCR Filippo Grandi is “deeply alarmed” about the situation of Eritrean refugees in Tigray, stating: “Over the last month we have received an overwhelming number of disturbing reports of Eritrean refugees in Tigray being killed, abducted and forcibly returned to Eritrea.” The Ethiopian government has rejected exit visas for 10 Eritrean refugees who completed all steps for relocation through IOM to Canada. Meanwhile, in Sudan, refugees fleeing to the conflict have surpassed 50,000. The refugees in Sudan face harsh conditions as organisations, including UNHCR and the Norwegian Refugee Council, rush to step up the shelters available. 

First foreign aid arrives after a month of fighting
After more than a month after the conflict started in the Tigray region, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has provided the first foreign aid of medicines and relief supplies. The supplies and equipment arrived in seven Red Cross trucks, which will be donated to Ayder Hospital, the Regional Health Bureau, and the ERCS pharmacy in Mekelle to help 400 wounded. Ayder Hospital is the main referral hospital for 500,000 people and has forced “doctors and nurses to make impossible choices of which services to continue, and which services to cut. […] This medical shipment will inject new stocks, help patients, and reduce those impossible life-or-death triage decisions” states Patrick Youssef, ICRC regional director for Africa.

Somalia breaks diplomatic ties with Kenya
Somalia has broken its diplomatic ties with Kenya, citing violations of Somali sovereignty by Kenya. It has instructed Somali diplomats to return and Kenyan diplomats to leave. The tension comes after relations tightened between Kenya and the Somali breakaway region of Somaliland after the Kenyan president hosted the leader of Somaliland, President Bihi. Meanwhile, in Somalia, demonstrations in Mogadishu demanding a fair election process in the country are ongoing.

International responses to the conflict
The UN Security Council discussed the conflict in the Horn during its “any other business” section on Tuesday 15 December. The conversation was initiated by Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany, the US, and the UK. Following the meeting, UN SC members called for an end to the human rights abuses in Tigray. Among others, Belgium and Germany demanded assurance that safe humanitarian access would be granted. The European Union has delayed budgetary financial support, worth 90 million euros, to Ethiopia over human rights concerns related to the conflict. The UK government expressed its concern over the reported ethnically-driven attacks in Tigray. An emergency IGAD meeting on 20 December will discuss the crisis in the region as well as COVID-19. Various countries furthermore condemned violence against humanitarian workers. UNHCR Envoy Vincent Cochetel states that “killing aid workers is a war crime with no statutory limitations” after the killing of four aid workers in a refugee camp in Tigray.

120 African women sign appeal for a women’s peace force in the Horn
Over 120 African women from 20 African countries, including the former Minister of Gender from Liberia, Julia Duncan-Cassell, call for a women peacekeeping mission to halt the fighting, protect civilians and refugees. The appeal urges African leaders to create the conditions for peace on the ground. The appeal is signed by a diversity of women from different backgrounds; including entrepreneurs, teachers, humanitarian aid workers, scholars, civil servants, mothers and community workers, and health workers. Duncan-Cassell states: “Let us recall that a female peace-keeping force in Liberia helped end the fighting, and for women and their families to return to a peaceful life. We found that female peacekeepers on the ground were very effective.”