Ethiopia and Eritrea peace agreement
Former US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs on the conflict in Tigray
BBC News Tigrinya
Eritrea's President Isaias Afwerki has expressed his concern about the situation in Ethiopia's Tigray region, in an interview with government media.
He said “we are contributing in accordance to our obligation” - without commenting on reports that Eritrean troops are in Tigray to help Ethiopian forces fight the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF).
The US last month called for the immediate withdrawal of Eritrean troops in Tigray, which borders Eritrea.
Both the Eritrean and Ethiopian governments deny that Eritrean forces are in Tigray.
“We, more than others in the region, have experienced the problem for 80 years. Therefore, peace and stability in Ethiopia is of more concern to us than others,” President Isaias is quoted as saying.
He said Eritrea was “trying our level best to contribute to [the situation in Ethiopia]”.
But he did not specify what kind of contribution Eritrea was making.
He termed as “utter madness” how the TPLF, Tigray's ousted ruling party, seized the northern command of the Ethiopian army in November.
In early 2020, President Isaias had said “we will not fold our hands and sit still concerning matters that develop in Ethiopia”.
Conflict in Tigray region escalated in early November, when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered a military offensive against regional forces in Tigray.
Mr Abiy said the offensive was in response to an attack on a military base housing government troops in Tigray.
The TPLF said it had captured the bases as a pre-emptive strike as it feared federal intervention in Tigray.
At least two million people have been displaced by the conflict and more than 60,000 people have crossed the border to Sudan.
The UN says that around 4.5 million people in the region require aid urgently.
More on the Tigray crisis:
Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki has arrived in Ethiopia for a three-day working visit.
His delegation includes Foreign Minister Osman Saleh and presidential adviser Yemane Ghebreab.
President Isaias and his host, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, will hold consultations on further enhancement of bilateral ties as well as the consolidation of regional cooperation, according to Eritrea's minister of information.
The Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation has tweeted a photo of President Isaias's arrival:
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Eritrea's Information Minister Yemane Gebre Meskel has said that he was surprised by the speed at which relations with Ethiopia have improved.
He told the BBC's Emmanuel Igunza that he was not expecting the level of goodwill that has been witnessed.
Just a few weeks ago the idea that the leaders of the two countries would meet face-to-face was unthinkable. But following the declaration by Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Eritrea's President Isaias Afwerki that the "state of war" is over things have changed rapidly.
Some activists are now asking whether the situation within Eritrea will change.
President Isaias has been in power since independence in 1993 and has never been elected.
His government has been accused of a raft of human rights violations. Amnesty International says freedom of expression is restricted and "arbitrary detention without charge or trial continue to be the norm for thousands of prisoners of conscience".
But Mr Yemane dismissed these accusations.
"Yes, Eritrea may have... shortcomings here and there," he admitted, "but to portray Eritrea as the worst violator has no basis in fact".
He said that the "so-called human rights agenda" has been pedalled for political purposes and that Eritrea has been stigmatised and demonised.
Of particular concern to rights groups is the indefinite national service. But Mr Yemane said this was a misnomer as it was never intended to be indefinite.
He said the 1994 national service law was about reducing the size of the standing army but the state of tension with Ethiopia meant that people had to serve longer than planned.
He would not say whether this would now change.
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