What a blind man’s dying reveals

What a blind man’s dying reveals


The injury-plagued life, and now dying, of Asmelash Woldeselassie highlights the brutality and cyclical nature of conflicts in Ethiopia’s mountainous Tigray area.

Having joined the Tigray Folks’s Liberation Entrance (TPLF) across the time of its formation in 1975, Asmelash misplaced his eyesight when he was bombed in his hideout within the Imba Alaje mountain throughout the struggle that ended with the guerrilla motion marching into Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, to grab energy from the infamous Mengistu Haile Mariam regime in 1991.

Then in 1998, when the TPLF-led authorities discovered itself on the centre of a border struggle with Eritrea, Asmelash misplaced his left arm in an airstrike on the regional capital, Mekelle.

Within the newest battle that has seen the TPLF return to being a guerrilla motion, Asmelash – who was a member of its govt – was killed together with two different TPLF veterans – former overseas minister Seyoum Mesfin and former minister of federal affairs Abay Tsehaye.

Aksum, monk overlooking Monastery of Abba Pantelewon, founded in 6th century
Tigray is a sparsely populated mountainous area

Ethiopia’s 44-year-old Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed – who ordered the navy operation that in the end led to their deaths – was a junior member of the TPLF-led coalition authorities till his rise to energy in 2018.

Now, he and the TPLF are enemies combating for management of Tigray, a strategically necessary area which borders Sudan and Eritrea, the gateway to the transport routes of the Pink Sea.

Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki has reportedly despatched troops to Tigray to bolster the Ethiopian navy’s operation and, some say, to avenge his humiliation by the hands of the TPLF throughout the 1998-2000 border struggle that left as much as 100,000 folks useless.

Each governments deny Eritrean troops are in Tigray, regardless of many Tigrayans, Eritreans and the US authorities saying they’re there.

Mr Abiy declared victory over the TPLF following the seize of the regional capital, Mekelle, on 28 November, however vowed that efforts to apprehend the TPLF “clique” – which was estimated to have 250,000 fighters beneath its command – would proceed.

Handcuffed and saggy

How Asmelah, Seyoum and Abay – all aged over 60 – died is unclear: some allege they had been shot useless in chilly blood, however the official Ethiopian model is that they had been killed in a cave space after they refused to give up.

Their deaths got here on high of the seize of a number of different TPLF stalwarts – together with Sebhat Nega, who was paraded in entrance of the cameras in handcuffs and looking out dishevelled, in a scene paying homage to the seize of Iraq’s former ruler Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Faisal Roble from the US-based Institute for Horn of Africa Research and Affairs stated that supporters of Mr Abiy are celebrating the destiny of the boys who belonged to an organisation that had dominated Ethiopia with an iron hand till mass protests compelled it to relinquish energy to Mr Abiy almost three years in the past.

“They’re saying: ‘We received the TPLF. We’re destroying it. They’ll by no means be capable of oppress us once more.’

“However Tigrayans – together with those that by no means favored the TPLF – are saying: ‘You killed Asmelash, a blind man, Seyoum, who had again surgical procedure and struggled to stroll, Abay, who had coronary heart surgical procedure, and also you humiliated Sebath, who cannot stroll up two stairs. These are our heroes.'”

A child reads some English words during his class at the school inside the Um Rakuba camp on January 8, 2021 in Um Rakuba, Sudan
About 60,000 folks from Tigray are in refugee camps in Sudan

Exiled Eritrean human rights campaigner Paulos Tesfagiorgis stated there was little question that nearly three months into the battle, the TPLF has suffered main setbacks after being hit by drone strikes and the large deployment of Ethiopian and Eritrean troops, in addition to forces from Ethiopia’s Amhara area, which beneath the nation’s federal system has its personal land dispute with Tigray.

“The TPLF has misplaced quite a lot of floor, quite a lot of leaders, quite a lot of fighters, and quite a lot of heavy weaponry. It now has solely medium and lightweight weapons. I do not suppose it anticipated Eritrea to get entangled to the extent it has.

“Isaias has pursued his previous technique of overwhelming the enemy with troops, tanks, armament, and bombings,” Mr Paulos stated, including: “However the TPLF isn’t completed. It fought intense battles. Now, it has returned to acquainted floor, the agricultural areas of Tigray, its mountains and hills, to wage a guerrilla struggle.”

An Ethiopian refugee, who fled the Tigray conflict, carries a bed upon his arrival at the Tenedba camp in Mafaza, eastern Sudan on January 8, 2021, after being transported from the reception center.
Many Tigrayans fled on foot and by boat to Sudan

Menychle Meseret, an educational at Ethiopia’s College of Gondar, stated the TPLF’s transfer to guerrilla warfare, after waging a “full-scale” battle in opposition to the Ethiopian navy, posed its personal risks.

“With rebel teams, even one suicide bomber may cause quite a lot of deaths. Within the case of the TPLF, it has some remaining fighters. There are studies of combating in some mountainous areas, and of the TPLF having already carried out ambushes on roads – even on an help convoy.”

Warnings of famine

Mr Paulos stated he believed that the federal government was utilizing hunger as a weapon of struggle.

“Authorities troopers burnt the crops of Tigrayans; the offensive occurred throughout the harvest season, and slaughtered their livestock. This was taking place whereas the federal government imposed a complete blockade on Tigray. No meals was getting in. Even now, the circulation of help is closely restricted.

“Individuals are already dying of starvation. There are warnings of a famine. This can be a struggle waged with out compassion. It jogs my memory of Mengistu’s quote: ‘To kill the fish, drain the pond’.” With a purpose to weaken the TPLF, Abiy’s authorities has to subdue the civilians, together with subjecting them to starvation,” Mr Paulos stated.

An Ethiopian refugee, who fled the Tigray conflict, walks in the Tenedba camp in Mafaza, eastern Sudan on January 8, 2021, after being transported from the reception centre
Many refugees are fearful concerning the family members they’ve left behind

Assist companies have reported that the battle – which got here amid the coronavirus pandemic and a locust infestation of crops – had prompted a “dire” scenario:

  • Greater than two million individuals are in want of help

  • Mass displacements have raised fears of a “large” transmission of Covid-19

  • Solely 5 out of 40 hospitals are accessible

  • Some 300 motorized water sources are dysfunctional

  • Native markets are close to collapsing

An official within the newly appointed administration in Tigray was quoted by native media as saying that the disaster within the area was “unprecedented in its historical past”. He put the quantity who required emergency meals help at 4.5 million (as much as 75% of the inhabitants), the variety of displaced at 2.5 million, and stated his workplace had acquired studies of 13 folks – together with three youngsters – having died of starvation.

The federal government has denied utilizing hunger as a weapon of struggle, and Mr Menychle stated such accusations had been “fully mistaken”.

“The federal government has sufficient meals shares however it could actually’t ship them in rural areas as a result of the TPLF is killing drivers. The TPLF desires to orchestrate hunger as a weapon to govern world opinion and get sympathy for its trigger.

“The TPLF gave weapons to farmers, and compelled a few of them to struggle. That’s the reason crops ended up being destroyed. The TPLF additionally managed the federal government administration of all cities. It destroyed workplaces – even hospitals – earlier than it deserted cities,” Mr Menychle stated.

The state-linked Human Rights Fee stated that residents of the agricultural hub of Humera in western Tigray had reported widespread looting of homes and companies by an ethnic Amhara youth group, militias, particular forces, in addition to some Ethiopian and Eritrean troopers.

“Looters have additionally emptied meals and grain storages,” it stated, including {that a} resident had complained that even folks despatched by the newly appointed administration to assist them “participate in theft”.

Extra on the Tigray disaster:

The Worldwide Disaster Group’s Ethiopia analyst William Davison stated the federal authorities was delivering some help into areas the place its troops, or safety forces from Amhara, had been firmly in management.

However this was not taking place in areas the place Tigrayan forces had been nonetheless a significant menace, as the federal government wouldn’t need them to pay money for help provides or to search out methods of smuggling in gasoline or arms.

“Giant swathes of rural Tigray haven’t been receiving any help as a result of there may be inadequate federal management or an excessive amount of insecurity.

“Assist goes into Mekelle, the regional capital, and a few components of the south or west, as federal or Amhara forces are in management in these locations,” he stated.

‘Eritrean troops in sacred metropolis’

Mr Davison added that to get help into areas beneath the management of Eritrean troops was additionally tough logistically and politically, as there was as but no acknowledgement from both the Ethiopian or Eritrean management that the latter’s forces have been a part of the Tigray battle.

Native folks informed the BBC that Eritrean forces had been in key cites and cities, together with Aksum, probably the most sacred website for Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, and Wukro, solely about 45km (28 miles) from Mekelle.

They’d withdrawn from Shire, the birthplace of Tigray’s ousted President Debretsion Gebremichael, after serving to Ethiopian forces take management of it, however they nonetheless had a robust presence in surrounding villages, residents stated.

Sudan’s key function

Martin Plaut – a senior analysis fellow at London College’s Institute of Commonwealth Research – stated that management of territory was not an indicator of who was successful.


“The TPLF doesn’t consider in holding cities and cities. It fights from the hills and mountains. It lets the enemy calm down.

“It then carries out hit-and-run assaults. It wears out the enemy over months and years. That is what it did within the earlier guerrilla struggle. Whether or not it could actually wage an efficient guerrilla struggle once more depends upon whether or not it could actually safe provide routes for ammunition, gasoline and meals,” Mr Plaut stated.

The final time round, the TPLF received its provides by way of Sudan. Whether or not Sudan agrees to take action once more – amidst a border dispute with Ethiopia that has led to clashes between their forces – was the large query, Mr Plaut stated.

“It’s more likely to decide whether or not it is a lengthy or a brief struggle.”

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