Eritrea calls for army mobilization as fighting in Ethiopia resumes, Canada says

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NAIROBI, Sept 17 (Reuters) – Eritrea is mobilizing its armed forces amid renewed conflict in northern Ethiopia, the Canadian government said on Saturday, raising fears of an escalation in fighting in a war that has already displaced millions of people and triggered a humanitarian disaster in northern Ethiopia.

“Local authorities have issued a general call for the mobilization of armed forces in response to the conflict in northern #Ethiopia,” said a Canadian travel advisory tweet.

The Canadian government has urged its citizens in Eritrea to limit their travel and monitor local media. It was not clear from the statement whether Canada believed Eritrea was mobilizing forces for offensive or defensive purposes.

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Eritrean Information Minister Yemane Gebremeskel and Ethiopian government spokesman Legesse Tulu did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

“Guards at UN embassies, compounds and residences had expressed fears of being removed from their posts due to widespread conscription,” a diplomat from the Horn of Africa told Reuters.

An Eritrean exile told Reuters that two of his family members in Eritrea said the government was sending citizens under the age of 60 to fight and authorities warned that deserters would have their homes confiscated.

Reuters could not independently verify his account.

Getachew Reda, spokesman for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which controls Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, said in a tweet on Saturday that Eritrea was calling up “sixty-year-old reservists” to fight.

Eritrea sent troops to Tigray to support the Ethiopian army after fighting broke out between the Ethiopian government and the TPLF in November 2020.

Eritrean and Ethiopian officials have denied reports of an Eritrean presence in Tigray until March 2021, despite numerous accounts of gang rapes and massacres of civilians by Eritrean troops. Eritrea has denied the accusations by residents and human rights groups.

Conflict resumed around Tigray last month after a roughly five-month ceasefire collapsed. Both sides blamed each other for the renewed violence.

Eritrea and Ethiopia fought a border war from 1998 to 2000. At the time, the Ethiopian government was dominated by the TPLF. Eritrea and the TPLF remain sworn enemies.

In 2018, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power and signed a peace accord with Eritrea – an act that won him the Nobel Peace Prize. But relations between Abiy and the TPLF deteriorated rapidly.

Abiy’s government accuses the TPLF of trying to reassert Tigrayan dominance over Ethiopia, while the TPLF accuses Abiy of over-centralizing power and oppressing Tigrayans.

Each side rejects the other’s narrative.

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Reporting from the Nairobi Newsroom; edited by Clélia Oziel

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.