NAIROBI, Kenya – Eritrean troops continue to commit atrocities in the northern Ethiopian region of Tigray despite Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s assurances they would leave, a senior United Nations official said Thursday.
Mr Abiy has come under pressure over reports of massacres, looting and sexual assault by Eritrean troops. Last month he flew into the Eritrean capital Asmara and announced that his ally, the autocratic Eritrean leader Isaias Afwerki, had agreed to bring his soldiers home.
However, the United Nations and its humanitarian partners have seen no evidence that such a withdrawal took place, Mark Lowcock, the UN’s top humanitarian official, told the Security Council. In fact, Lowcock said, Eritrean soldiers began to mask their identities by wearing Ethiopian military uniforms and some did not kill civilians in indiscriminate attacks until Monday.
The Times received a copy of Mr. Lowcock’s remarks made in a private briefing. They paint a bleak picture of the violence in Tigray, where a clash between Mr Abiy and regional leaders in November has turned into a chaotic and ruthless conflict that threatens to destabilize the entire Horn of Africa region.
Civilians are still being evicted from their homes in western Tigray, Lowcock said, despite US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken condemning the “ethnic cleansing” earlier this month.
Hunger is spreading with up to 150 people who recently starved to death in a district south of the Tigrayan capital, Mekelle, Lowcock told the Security Council.
And almost a third of all attacks on civilians involve sexual violence, the majority of men in uniform, he said. Girls eight years and older have been targeted.
In one case, said Mr Lowcock, Eritrean soldiers raped a woman in front of her children days after her husband was killed and she lost a newborn baby.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Mr. Lowcock.
Such terrible reports define the conflict in Tigray. It was the fifth time the Security Council has discussed the crisis behind closed doors since it broke out in November.
Aside from expressing condemnation and outrage, the international community in Tigray, where residents and aid workers say the killing, assaults and hunger continue unabated, has had little impact on the soil.
Human Rights Watch group says it is high time the Security Council held its discussion on Tigray publicly and worked out concrete measures to curb the abuses.
“Tigrayans from all walks of life have repeatedly described that they feel abandoned not only by their government but also by the world,” said Laetitia Bader, director of the group in the Horn of Africa, in a statement. “The most powerful body in the United Nations must end its paralysis.”
Rick Gladstone contributed to coverage from New York.