Refugees Come Under Fire as Old Foes Fight in Concert in Ethiopia
As fighting raged across the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia last month, a group of soldiers arrived one day at Hitsats, a small hamlet ringed by scrubby hills that was home to a sprawling refugee camp of 25,000 people.
The refugees had come from Eritrea, whose border lies 30 miles away, part of a vast exodus in recent years led by desperate youth fleeing the tyrannical rule of their leader, one of Africa’s longest-ruling autocrats. In Ethiopia, Eritrea’s longtime adversary, they believed they were safe.
But the soldiers who burst into the camp on Nov. 19 were also Eritrean, witnesses said. Mayhem quickly followed — days of plunder, punishment and bloodshed that ended with dozens of refugees being singled out and forced back across the border into Eritrea.
For weeks, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia has denied that soldiers from Eritrea — a country that Ethiopia once fought in an exceptionally brutal war — had entered Tigray, where Mr. Abiy has been fighting since early November to oust rebellious local leaders.
In fact, according to interviews with two dozen aid workers, refugees, United Nations officials and diplomats — including a senior American official — Eritrean soldiers are fighting in Tigray, apparently in coordination with Mr. Abiy’s forces, and face credible accusations of atrocities against civilians. Among their targets were refugees who had fled Eritrea and its harsh leader, President Isaias Afwerki.
The deployment of Eritreans to Tigray is the newest element in a melee that has greatly tarnished Mr. Abiy’s once-glowing reputation. Only last year he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for making peace with Mr. Isaias. Now it looks like the much-lauded peace deal between the former enemies in fact laid the groundwork for them to make war against Tigray, their mutual adversary.
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