Eritrea is mobilising armed forces due to the re-eruption of the conflict in northern Ethiopia, the Canadian government said on Saturday, raising fears that the fighting may intensify in a war that has already displaced millions and triggered a humanitarian disaster across northern Ethiopia.
“Local authorities have issued a general call for mobilization of armed forces in response to the conflict in northern #Ethiopia,” said a Canadian travel advice tweet.
The Canadian government urged its citizens in Eritrea to limit their movements and monitor local media. It was not clear from the statement if Canada believed Eritrea was mobilising forces for offensive or defensive purposes.
Eritrean Information Minister Yemane Gebremeskel and Ethiopian government spokesperson Legesse Tulu did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
“Guards at embassies, UN compounds and residences had expressed fears they would be taken from their positions due to the widespread conscription,” a Horn of Africa diplomat told Reuters.
One Eritrean exile told Reuters that two family members inside Eritrea had said the government was sending citizens under 60 to fight and that authorities had warned that deserters would have their houses confiscated.
Reuters could not independently verify his account.
Getachew Reda, a spokesman for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which controls Ethiopia’s northern region of Tigray, said in a tweet on Saturday that Eritrea was calling up “sixty-year-old reservists” to fight.
Eritrea sent troops into Tigray to back the Ethiopian military after fighting broke out between the Ethiopian government and the TPLF in November 2020.
Both Eritrean and Ethiopian officials denied reports of Eritrean presence in Tigray until March 2021, despite widespread accounts of gang rapes and mass killings of civilians by Eritrean troops. Eritrea denied the accusations from residents and human rights groups.
Conflict re-erupted around Tigray last month after a roughly five month-long ceasefire collapsed. Both sides blamed each other for the renewed violence.
Eritrea and Ethiopia fought a border war from 1998-2000. At the time, the Ethiopian government was dominated by the TPLF. Eritrea and the TPLF remain arch-enemies.
In 2018, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power and signed a peace deal with Eritrea – an act that won him the Nobel Peace Prize. But relations between Abiy and the TPLF quickly soured.
Abiy’s government accuses the TPLF of trying to reassert Tigrayan dominance over Ethiopia, while the TPLF accuses Abiy of over-centralising power and oppressing Tigrayans.
Each side rejects the other’s narrative.