By SUMUR TESHAYE & TESFA-ALEM TEKLE
The Ethiopian government has asked the over 17,000 ethnic-Tigrayan members of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) – who remain detained for over two years – to sign a guilty plea in exchange for their release.
Credible sources close to the matter told The East African Daily that the Ethiopian government has assigned a lobbying team led by a senior military official, Major General Belay Seyoum, to handle the negotiations between the government and the Tigrayan ENDF members.
To effect the “ill arrangement”, Major General Belay Seyoum, a former commander-in-chief of the Northern command of ENDF, dispatched its lobbying team to the different military concentration camps across the country where the Tigrayan soldiers are being held.
The plan intends to convince the thousands of Tigrayan prisoners to sign a guilty plea to a document drafted by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed regime in exchange for their release.
The meeting started on Monday, this week and has continued till this story was published today (Saturday).
The discussions took place simultaneously in all the camps monitored by respective ENDF representatives under General Belay Seyoum’s close supervision.
The discussion focused on the circumstances that led to the imprisonment to the thousands former ENDF members of Tigray origin, with an aim to determining accountability.
According to our source, the former members of the National defense force were presented with an ultimatum, requesting them to admit guilt and sign a confession document in order to secure release grant.
“If you want to be released, you have to formally admit that you betrayed ENDF and the Ethiopian Government by allying with TPLF” states the ultimatum set by the Ethiopian government and presented to the prisoners.
“You have to acknowledge that your actions were the sole reason for your arrest” it added.
The government authorities further warned the prisoners that if they reject the ”offer” that “they would be left to rot in prison for the next two to three years”
However, the detainees in protest, collectively rejected the injunction and refused to sign the document.
As a result, the second meeting held on Tuesday was prematurely terminated without any breakthrough.
Other source who came from a long line of Ethiopian military family and who has three relatives detained in three different camps verified that the detainees were presented with another administration request.
They were inquired to agree with the notion that TPLF is to be blamed for the conflict in North Ethiopia and for the crises that followed in the country.
“TPLF was the instigator of the conflict and you (Ethnic-Tigrayan ENDF members) supported TPLF during the course of the war. As a result you are in prison over of consequences of your actions” states the second and amended version of the offer brought on Wednesday for the prisoners to sign.
However, the detainees dismissed the alleged involvement with TPLF and questioned the government lobbying team’s conclusions.
“As members of ENDF, we were defending the national interest of Ethiopia and the people” one detainee said during the meeting adding “We took an oath to Ethiopia not to a single political party,”
“Several were detained while they were different national missions including in areas where there were no internet access. They didn’t even know war was happening untill they were taken to the detention camps” he added
“The blame should not only be put on TPLF, all political parties including the central government and major opposition parties contributed, pointing fingers only at TPLF will not bring lasting solution” another detainee stressed.
Call to the Stakeholders
The Ethiopian government’s fresh blame game is taking place amid a November peace deal signed between Ethiopian government and Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
Now, over five months down the road, peace is holding, however the former members of ENDF remain languishing in several concentration camps.
“If the Pretoria Agreement is not implemented accordingly, peace is meaningless for me. All stakeholders should uphold their responsibilities” a family of an imprisoned soldier who preferred anonymity told The East African Daily.
“I am losing hope…forget the Federal Government, unless the Tigray interim Administration takes a firm stand against the continued atrocities inflicted upon Tigray civilians across Ethiopia, and unless the AU and the US demand the implementation of the agreement in time, the peace agreement is just meaningless to the people of Tigray”
“It has been over 5 months since the agreement was signed, and people are still suffering, I think the mediators and international actors are playing their roles irresponsibly, it feels like the lives of millions of Tigrayans means nothing to them. That is why I feel betrayed”
A second source from Tigray capital, Mekelle, confirmed that the newly established interim administration of Tigray is well aware of the current situation of the detained former Tigrayan ENDF members and questioned why the regional administration failed to address the matter in a responsible manner.
“I don’t understand why the Federal Government is refusing to release the detainees. They are enduring unimaginable sufferings for over two years, and hundreds among them were massacred”
Tigray Releases PoWs
According to our second source, Tigrayan authorities this week released unspecified numbers of Ethiopian prisoners of war (PoWs) who were captured during the two-year war in Tigray.
“Few days ago, Tigrayan authorities have released several PoWs of the Ethiopian Federal forces” the source told The East African Daily but questioned why the Federal Government is not doing similar commitments.
“The Tigrayan former ENDF members were detained from their houses and several while in military duty, in contrary the Ethiopian PoWs were captured in various war fronts. Ironically, Tigray Authorities released the PoWs and yet the Ethiopian government refused to release the former ENDF members”
“it seems like the peace agreements implementation is only one-sided” commitment.
He called on the mediators and other stakeholders of the peace agreement to do more for the effective implementation of the peace accord.
Ethnic-Tigrayan members of the Ethiopian 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.
They are held in over 10 detention camps, including Yirga Alem, Birsheleko, Harar, Awash Arba, Hurso, Gambela, Hawassa, Shashemene, and Jigjiga.
“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.
Just coming in: As we run this story, more than 1500 Tigrayan members of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces are released today from a notorious prison camp in Mierab Abaya, Southern Ethiopia, according to Tigrai Television.
However, it is not yet clear the circumstances under which the prisoners were released.
The East African Daily is closely following up over any possible developments in the other military camps.
We will keep you posted as we receive any updates.
(The East African Daily)
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