Eritrea summons British diplomat over Tigray remarks

NAIROBI (AFP): Eritrea’s information minister said Friday that his government had summoned a British diplomat to protest remarks by the UK ambassador to Ethiopia urging Asmara to withdraw from Ethiopia’s Tigray region.

Eritrean troops supported Ethiopian forces during the federal government’s two-year war against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and have been accused by the United States and rights groups of some of the conflict’s worst atrocities.

The war ended with a peace deal signed in November last year that called for the withdrawal of foreign forces, but Asmara was not a party to the agreement and its troops continue to be present in bordering areas of Tigray.

In an interview posted online on Wednesday, the British envoy to Ethiopia Darren Welch told the TPLF-linked broadcaster Tigrai TV that the UK government backed “calls for Eritrean forces to withdraw completely back to their own borders.”

Eritrea’s foreign ministry summoned the British charge d’affaires in Asmara on Thursday “to convey strong message to Whitehall on unwarranted remarks of (the) British Ambassador to Ethiopia… apparently endorsing TPLF’s irredentist claims,” Information Minister Yemane Gebremeskel said on X, formerly Twitter.

Eritrea broke away from Ethiopia in 1993 and fought a two-year border war with its neighbor — then ruled by the TPLF — which poisoned relations until a peace agreement in 2018, after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power in Addis Ababa.

Dubbed the “North Korea” of Africa, Eritrea was sanctioned by the United States in 2021 after sending troops into Tigray.

Its forces have been accused of murder, rape and looting, according to residents who say Eritrean soldiers still remain in Tigray, more than nine months after the war ended.

During a rare press conference in Kenya earlier this year, Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki dismissed accusations of rights abuses by Eritrean troops in Tigray as “fantasy.”

Human Rights Watch in February called for fresh sanctions against Eritrea, accusing it of rounding up thousands of people, including minors, for mandatory military service, during the Tigray war.

The country sits near the bottom of global rankings for press freedom, as well as human rights, civil liberties and economic development.