Forces in Ethiopia’s Tigray region say Eritrea has launched a full-scale offensive and heavy fighting was taking place in several areas along the border in what appears to be an escalation of last month’s renewal of fighting.
The Eritreans are fighting alongside Ethiopian federal forces, including commando units, as well as allied militias, said Getachew Reda, spokesman for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), on Tuesday.
“Eritrea is deploying its entire army as well as reservists. Our forces are heroically defending their positions,” Reda wrote on Twitter.
There was no immediate comment from authorities in Ethiopia or Eritrea, which lies north of Tigray.
Two aid workers reported intense fighting along the border, including shelling into a camp for displaced persons, the Reuters news agency reported. They did not say whether Eritrean troops were on the ground in Tigray.
A humanitarian worker in the northern Ethiopian town of Adigrat told The Associated Press that Eritrean forces were shelling the surrounding areas.
The US special envoy for the Horn of Africa said the United States was aware of Eritrean troops crossing into Ethiopia’s Tigray region.
“We have been tracking Eritrean troops’ movement across the border … and we condemn it,” Mike Hammer told reporters in a briefing after a trip to Ethiopia to help facilitate African Union-led peace talks between the Ethiopian government and Tigrayan forces.
“All external foreign actors should respect Ethiopia’s territorial integrity and avoid fuelling the conflict,” he said.
If confirmed, the participation of Eritrean troops would mark an escalation in a conflict that was reignited last month after the collapse of a ceasefire in place since March.
Canada and the United Kingdom issued travel advisories last week telling their citizens in Eritrea to be vigilant after authorities there called up citizens to report for military duty.
The war in Tigray is estimated to have killed tens of thousands of people and left millions without basic services for well over a year.
United Nations experts on Monday said that there are reasonable grounds to believe that “war crimes and crimes against humanity” have been committed by the Ethiopian government in the Tigray region.
Ethiopia’s permanent representative to the UN in Geneva, Zenebe Kebede Korcho, said the experts’ conclusions were “self-contradictory and biased”.
“There is not any single evidence that shows the government of Ethiopia used humanitarian aid as an instrument of war,” the envoy told the AFP news agency, describing the report as “a mockery” and “rubbish”.
“Therefore we have no other option but to reject this report.”
Eritrean forces fought on the side of Ethiopian federal troops in Tigray when war erupted in November 2020. Eritrean forces were implicated in some of the worst atrocities committed in the conflict — charges they deny. The war reignited in August after a lull in fighting earlier this year.
Inside Tigray, millions of residents are still largely cut off from the world. Communications and banking services are severed, and their restoration has been a key demand in mediation efforts.
The full-blown entry of Eritrea into the Tigray war could potentially complicate any peace efforts between Tigrayan leaders and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who mended ties with Eritrea as soon as he rose to power in 2018.
But that rapprochement was viewed suspiciously by Tigrayan authorities, for whom Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki remains a foe two decades after Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a bloody border war.