BY TESFA-ALEM TEKLE
Ethiopian authorities on Tuesday released over 190 ethnic Tigrayan members of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) who had been detained for over two years following the eruption of conflict in the country’s northern Tigray region.
Credible sources today told The East African Daily that the Tigrayan ENDF members were released from Garbasa military camp located in the country’s Somali region.
“The 190 released are only about 10% of the total Tigrayan prisoners in that camp” the source stated.
Ethnic Tigrayan members of the Ethiopiaan National Defense Force have been a target of ethnic profiling and hate crimes way before Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed government waged a war on Tigray.
After the war broke out in November 2020, Ethiopian authorities swept up thousands of ethnic Tigrayan soldiers including High-profile members of the national Army in a politically motivated mass crackdown.
As the war intensified, Ethiopia arrested over 17,000 Tigrayan ENDF members who were not involved in the Tigray war.
“After Abiy Ahmed launched the war on Tigray, he intensified his purging as he also engaged in hateful and genocidal rhetoric against ethnic Tigrayans” Desta Haileselassie Hagos, a Tigrayan activist said in a paper he published late in January.
“At the start of the war, Tigrayan members of the ENDF were removed from the army and put in concentration camps across Ethiopia. Even those who were in UN peacekeeping missions in Somalia and Sudan were not spared” he added.
As the war rages, Ethiopian military authorities later announced that the thousands of these former Tigrayan ENDF soldiers will be a subject to life sentence or execution through a trumped-up “treason” charges in breach to international law.
According to Washington Post’s investigative report published on December last year, Ethiopian guards and villagers massacred 83 Tigrayan prisoners at a camp in southern Ethiopia.
The Post said the previously unreported killings occurred on November 21, 2021, at a camp near the town of Mirab Abaya that housed more than 2,000 detained Tigrayan soldiers.
The report described the brutal massacre as the deadliest killing of imprisoned soldiers carried out since the Tigray war started.
Witnesses told the Post that between 16 and 18 guards at the camp opened fire on prisoners late that afternoon, prompting many to flee into the bush, chased by Ethiopian soldiers.
The report said after running for an hour, some escapees came across some locals and begged them for help. Instead, a mob of at least 150 people attacked the Tigrayans with machetes, sticks and stones.
Witnesses said members of the mob were incorrectly told the Tigrayans were prisoners of war who were responsible for the deaths of local men in the military.
The Post said none of the soldiers killed had been combatants against Ethiopian forces.
The attacks happened at a time when Tigrayan forces were advancing towards the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
Prisoners interviewed for the story speculated that the attacks were triggered by fear or desire for revenge.
The bodies of the 83 Tigrayans were dumped in a mass grave outside the prison camp, according to witnesses.
“They were stacked on top of each other like wood,” said one.
The Post said it interviewed more than two dozen people, including prisoners, medical personnel, officials and local relatives, for the story that was published Sunday.
Many of the victims included in the Washington Post’s report had previously served in peacekeeping mission under the United Nations (UN) in South Sudan and Somalia.
It is to be recalled that after Ethiopia launched the mass arrest against Tigrayan members of the ENDF, more than 500 Tigrayan peacekeepers refused to return to Ethiopia and sought asylum in Sudan.
The UN and the African Union (AU) had full knowledge about the unlawful arrest and killings of Tigrayan peacekeepers that the government of Abiy Ahmed forcefully returned to Ethiopia.
However, the UN reportedly wasn’t firm to provide protection to the Tigrayan international peacekeepers.
Fate of Others
The release of the 190 Tigrayan ENDF members comes 5 months after Tigray leaders and the Ethiopian federal government signed a peace agreement which ended a two-year bloody conflict that claimed the lives of over 600,000 people and displaced millions more.
A former Tigrayan member of the UN peacekeeping mission in Sudan, with a rank of colonel, said the Ethiopian government’s move to free the soldiers could be taken as good will gesture but argued it is not enough.
“As peace is holding, I don’t understand why the Abiy government is keeping the soldiers in prison” the former military official who preferred anonymity told The East African Daily.
“Considering the large number of prisoners still held, the release of 190 is only a fraction of it” he added.
The Colonel stressed that Addis Ababa must immediately release all the remaining prisoners and prove itself it is committed to the peace accord.
Tigray Interim Leader
Questions are being raised why it is taking too long for the Ethiopian regime to free all the imprisoned soldiers.
Tigrayan authorities haven’t yet commented on the latest development.
But, some political commentaries are calling on Mr. Getachew Reda, the Newly appointed president of Tigray’s interim administration to put diplomatic efforts to secure the release of all prisoners.
Despite the release of the 190 soldiers, the fate of the remaining Tigrayan soldiers who are languishing in several concentration camps however remains to be a mystery.
(The East African Daily)