Post: AEPAC Statement: Basic Facts on the Law Enforcement Operation in Tigray Region of Ethiopia (Updated June 11, 2021)

AEPAC Statement: Basic Facts on the Law Enforcement Operation in Tigray Region of Ethiopia (Updated June 11, 2021)

June 11, 2021
“I recognize that, in the end, everyone is entitled to their opinions. Only history will judge whether the Federal Government under my leadership could have done anything else to resolve the existential crisis my old and proud nation faced on that fateful night of 03 November and its aftermath.” PM Abiy Ahmed, December24, 2020

1. The political context of the recent conflict in Tigray, Northern Ethiopia

On March 27, 2018, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) elected Dr. Abiy Ahmed as its Chairman who was sworn-in as a Prime Minister of Ethiopia on April 2, 2018. PM Abiy immediately began political, social and economic reforms. Political prisoners were released, press freedom and rights to speech and assembly restored. Major reforms were made in the security, police and defense sectors. A peace initiative with Eritrea led to a thawing out of two decades of hostilities. In December 2019, PM Abiy Ahmed was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

On December 1, 2019 PM Abiy helped establish a new multi-ethnic Prosperity Party (PP) by merging three EPRDF member parties, the Amhara Democratic Party (ADP), the Oromo Democratic Party (ODP) and the Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement (SEPDM) and five other regional parties which were kept unequal to the TPLF. The new party is set to run for the first time as a unified party in the general election on June 21, 2021. One of the partners of the former EPRDF, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) declined to join Prosperity Party. Instead, TPLF launched covert and overt campaigns to undermine and weaken PM Abiy’s Administration. TPLF leaders orchestrated violence and destruction in different parts of the country by recruiting, training and financing disaffected individuals to instigate regional and inter-ethnic violence. Over the past 2 years, TPLF-sponsored attacks resulted in untold deaths and destruction and left millions of people internally displaced.

In May 2020, the Ethiopian House of Federation (HoF), citing constitutional authority, decided to postpone the general election set for August 2020 because of the Covid-19 emergency. The TPLF rejected the HoF’s decision outright and conducted its own unconstitutional regional election on September 9, 2020 in defiance of the Constitution of the country. The TPLF further claimed the current Ethiopian government is illegal after September 30, 2020. The TPLF claimed to have won 98.2% of the seats in the regional parliament. The HoF declared the TPLF election illegal. TPLF leaders countered, by questioning, the legitimacy of the Prime Minister, the Parliament and the Election Board. They demanded the resignation of the entire Federal Government. PM Abiy sought to solve the disagreement through peaceful dialogue. Recounting his efforts to resolve the problem peacefully, PM Abiy recently said “when the TPLF leadership rejected my personal invitations to engage with my administration in constructive dialogue on the future of our nation, I encouraged the country’s most senior religious leaders, community elders and notable business community representatives to travel to Mekelle, the capital of the Tigray Region, and help federal and regional political leaders resolve the differences peacefully. Regrettably, these most revered community and religious leaders were rebuffed by the TPLF leadership, treating them with utmost contempt and sending them back with nothing.”

2. Who is responsible for the onset of the conflict in Tigray?

 On November 3, 2020, the TPLF leadership planned and orchestrated a large-scale attack on the Federal Northern Command base in Tigray. In a coordinated attack, the TPLF simultaneously attacked two hundred military barracks located in Tigray region. Scores of Ethiopian soldiers were massacred and heavy military weaponry looted. Thousands of non-Tigrean soldiers and many high-level officers were taken hostage. The TPLF proudly claimed responsibility for these actions.

On November 4, 2020 Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed informed the nation and the Ethiopian Parliament of the unprovoked TPLF attack against the Northern Command by TPLF forces. He ordered the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) to protect the sovereignty of the country, enforce law and order and round up the ringleaders of the criminal act. He stated the objective of the ENDF operation is to preserve the constitutional order and enforce the law. The Council of Ministers declared a six-month State of Emergency in Tigray and the House of Peoples Representatives (HPR) unanimously approved the decision.

Despite TPLF admissions they had started the attack as a preemptive measure, some in the international media and TPLF foreign supporters have alleged that the Federal Government of Ethiopia “started a war in Tigray to punish the TPLF for conducting regional election”. This is a deliberate disinformation campaign aimed at misleading the international community. Here is a fact-check:  

  • On November 13, 2020, TPLF propaganda chief, Seku Toure Getachew, proudly claimed responsibility for starting the attack against Northern Command on TPLF official TV “Dimtsi Woyane Television”. He said, “We had to take this preemptive action as anticipatory self-defense. We had to incapacitate the threat of this force. It was a preemptive and blitz operation that took only 45 minutes. It was similar to Israel’s surprise attack against the Arabs in 1967. There is no force called Northern Command in Tigray Region anymore”.
  • On November 17, 2020, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo issued Press Statement which reads: “The United States strongly condemns the attack carried out by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) on the airport in Asmara, Eritrea, on November 14. We are deeply concerned by this blatant attempt by the TPLF to cause regional instability by expanding its conflict with Ethiopian authorities to neighboring countries. We also continue to denounce the TPLF’s November 13 missile attacks on the Bahir Dar and Gondar airports in Ethiopia.” [From: ]
  • On November 19, 2020, at a Press Briefing at the US Department of State, US officials asserted that “from the first attacks on November 3rd by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) on Ethiopian National Defense Force bases in the Tigray region, we have publicly and privately highlighted our grave concern.” [From: ]
  • On December 1, 2020 in his Interview with BBC Radio, Ambassador Tibor Nagy, US Assistant Secretary for African Affairs “made his stance clear again saying TPLF waged war on Ethiopia to restore its lost power.”
  • On December 24, 2020, in a statement issued by the Office of the Prime Minister, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed described the situation as follows: “Using traitors recruited from within the army along ethnic lines, not only did the TPLF leadership cause the massacre of unarmed soldiers in their pajamas in the dead of night, but they also took possession, illegally, of the entire military arsenal of the Northern Command. I was thus left with a decision only of how, not whether, to fight and defend the integrity of my country and restore the constitutional order.”[]

3. What were TPLF’s objectives in attacking the Federal Military Base in Tigray?

While the reform program is in full swing throughout Ethiopia, TPLF leaders entrenched themselves in Tigray and began organizing their own military force by recruiting and training a so-called Tigray Special Forces and militia. By some estimates, by the end of summer 2020, the TPLF had assembled a 250,000-strong military force to engage Ethiopian federal forces. The TPLF effort completely failed as Ethiopian Federal troops defeated the TPLF in three weeks, secured the region and established a provisional government.

Informed commentators have shared their perspectives on why the TPLF sought a military solution. At a Press Briefing organized at the Department of State on November 19, 2020, US officials noted that “… it seems like they (TPLF) were doing this more to depose the Prime Minister from power and to reassert themselves into the prominent position that they had atop the Ethiopian political spectrum for the last 27 years.” At that Briefing it was also noted that “TPLF chairman told the Financial Times at some point this week that a breakup of Ethiopia could be one of the consequences of this.”

4. How long did the law enforcement operation take? Is there a civil war in Tigray currently?

The Federal Government’s law enforcement operation in Tigray aimed at restoring peace and constitutional order and to bring those responsible to justice. TPLF attacked Federal Forces stationed in Tigray and the Tigrayan people were not a party to the treasonous crime committed by the TPLF leadership. The people of Tigray are not fighting Federal Forces. The Tigrayan people are equally victims of the TPLF’s aggression as the ENDF troops in Tigray. In fact, the Ethiopian army with the support of the Tigrayan people is now in full control of all towns and cities including the regional capital, Mekelle. TPLF Special Forces and militia have surrendered to Ethiopian Federal Forces by the thousands and the TPLF leadership is in disarray. Many of the top leaders are now arrested and their cases are under legal process in the court of law. Some TPLF leaders were reportedly killed resisting arrest while others are hiding or still on the run.

The law enforcement action in Tigray concluded in three weeks i.e. on November 28, 2020 and the Provisional government of Tigray is now in charge of the situation on the ground. It was reported that some remnants of TPLF leadership and militia are in disarray running for their lives. In isolated circumstances some remnants of TPLF are engaged in banditry activities looting and terrorizing villagers. Some even claimed guerilla warfare in rural areas. Prime Minister Abiy during his address to Ethiopian Parliament on March 23, 2021 said “… the reality is the criminal clique is thoroughly defeated and in disarray, with insignificant capability to mount a protracted insurgency.”  

5. What is the situation in humanitarian relief distribution?  

There are millions of Ethiopians in Tigray region who now need humanitarian assistance. When TPLF was a ruling party in Tigray for nearly thirty years, about 1.8 million people depended on food assistance each year through safety net programs in the region. Following recent conflict in Tigray that the TPLF started an additional two million people were affected with food insecurity. The humanitarian relief situation was further complicated by the worst locust invasions that happened in the region in 2020.

Recently, US Department of State issued statements alleging gross human rights violations and humanitarian crisis in Tigray and demanded full access to Tigray. The Ethiopian Government has granted access to all humanitarian relief organizations to undertake humanitarian assistance in Tigray. The Ethiopian government by itself has carried out massive relief operations worth about 40 billion Birr (US$1 billion) from its meagre resources to avoid famine in Tigray. Some remnants of the TPLF have ambushed trucks carrying much needed food and medicine for the most needy in the remote parts of the region. To add insult to injury, TPLF remnants and their foreign supporters cynically accused the Ethiopian Government for weaponizing food assistance and some NGOs in the West echoed such baseless accusations. Despite some rhetoric by Western media Ethiopian Government remains the source of 75% food assistance and food distribution in Tigray region.  

6. Have crimes against humanity been committed in Tigray?

On November 12, 2020, Amnesty International released a report “confirming that scores, and likely hundreds, of people were stabbed or hacked to death in Mai Kadra town in the South West Zone of Ethiopia’s Tigray Region on the night of November 9.” Amnesty International based its report on the testimonies of eyewitnesses “who said forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) were responsible for the mass killings, apparently after they suffered defeat from the federal EDF [Ethiopia Defense Forces].” The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission conducted intensive field visits and published its preliminary findings on November 24, 2020. The Commission reported an initial death toll of at least 600 civilians in Mai Kadra and confirmed the massacre was a series of ethnic cleansing and mass murders carried out by a group called Samri, a TPLF killing squad which targeted Amharas and non-Tigrayan migrant workers who came from different parts of Ethiopia to work as laborers in the region.

TPLF supporters including reporters from Thomson Reuters have presented one-sided interviews of Tigrayan refugees in Sudan who alleged that Tigreans were killed in Mai Kadra. The only sources of these allegations thus far are selected refugees. Many of these selected refugees are suspected Samri members who ended up at the refugee camps in Sudan after they allegedly committed mass killings in Mai Kadra. It has now become clear that TPLF supporters and some Western media reporters are staging interviews in refugee camps in Sudan in order to create counter-narratives about the Mai Kadra massacre and sow confusion.

On March 23, 2021 Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed answered questions directed to him by law makers in the Ethiopian parliament. One of the key points he emphasized during his briefing was the alleged human rights violations, including rape and gross human rights violations in Tigray. He mentioned reports of alleged violations from different sources and he is committed to conduct full investigations to those alleged crimes in Tigray region. Accordingly, the Prime Minister informed the Parliament that he had a week long discussion and evaluation session with the leadership of the Ethiopian Defense Forces about alleged human rights violations in Tigray. He said that these allegations will be given utmost attention and decision was made to conduct rigorous investigations, in collaboration with the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, in order to find truth into this allegation. The Prime minister promised that anyone in the military who will be implicated in such a crime will be made accountable and face justice as soon as independent investigations are completed.  

In order to carry out independent investigations to human right allegations in Tigray, the Ethiopian government invited independent parties to join the government to carry out full investigation to those allegations. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Michelle Bachelet accepted the invitation and decided to join Ethiopian Human Rights Commission to carry out joint investigation to alleged human rights violations, in Tigray region. Recently, the United Nations Human Right from Commission, the African Union Commission for Human Rights and the Ethiopian Human Right Commission has begun independent investigations to all human rights violations including rape, war crimes, and crime against humanity in Tigray.        

During his briefing, Dr. Abiy also told Parliament about the presence of Eritrean troops in Tigray that crossed the border when TPLF attacked and dislodged federal troops who were patrolling and securing border areas with Eritrea. TPLF rocket attacks aimed at Asmara airport also provoked Eritrean Government to defend itself. PM Abiy expressed his sincere gratitude to the people and Government of Eritrea for their unwavering support to Ethiopia during the time of need for the Ethiopian people. He also mentioned that he discussed with Eritrean authorities about the alleged human rights violations which they denied. He said Eritrean authorities assured him that they will carry out their own investigations into this allegation and would be ready to punish those who might be implicated in such a crime after confirmation by the result of rigorous investigations. The Prime Minister asked Eritrea to withdraw its forces from Ethiopian territories which has been accepted by the Government of the State of Eritrea.

On human rights violations, the Ethiopian Government has begun its own independent investigations into all allegations which are being led by Ethiopia’s Attorney General. As it was reported by Reuters on May 21, 2021 that “Three Ethiopian soldiers have been convicted of rape and one of killing a civilian in Ethiopia’s Tigray region; those soldiers who had been found guilty of crimes against civilians in the conflict. Twenty-eight more soldiers are on trial for killing civilians and 25 for acts of sexual violence and rape.”

7. Why are TPLF’s foreign supporters calling for negotiations and international intervention?

TPLF leaders have launched a campaign to lobby foreign governments to pressure Ethiopia to negotiate with them. TPLF’s foreign supporters, many of them masquerading as Horn of Africa experts, are preaching the gospel of “all-inclusive national dialogue” and “an immediate cessation of hostilities” between the Ethiopian government and the TPLF. Some Western Governments including the Biden Administration also expressed their support for all-inclusive dialogue and cessation of hostilities. 

  • Former Ethiopian Prime Minister Haile Mariam Desalegne in his recent op-ed in Foreign Policy observed “Ethiopia’s Government and the TPLF leadership are not morally equivalent”. He argued the TPLF “triggered an armed confrontation with the federal government so that the current leaders would be able to secure immunity for their past and present misdeeds and a power-sharing scheme through an internationally brokered deal.”  
  • PM Abiy concluded, “If the TPLF leadership is guaranteed the impunity it desires through an internationally brokered deal, the cause for justice and sustainable peace will be severely harmed. Above all, it creates a precedent for other groupings within the Ethiopian federation to learn the wrong lesson: that violence pays off.”
  • On March 10, 2021 U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused the Ethiopian government that ethnic cleansing has happened in western Tigray. He told the Foreign Affairs Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives that the U.S. is “seeing very credible reports of human rights abuses and atrocities that is ongoing” in Tigray.” Blinken did not reveal his evidence or mentioned the source of his “credible report” about such grave accusations. On March 13, 2021, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia responded. In a Press statement it issued, the Ministry vehemently denied US accusations of ethnic cleansing in Tigray. The statement said that the allegations of ethnic cleansing are based on “a completely unfounded and spurious verdict against the Ethiopian government,” and “overblowing things out of proportion.” The statement concluded that “Nothing during or after the end of the main law enforcement operation in Tigray can be characterized by any standards as a targeted, intentional ethnic cleansing against anyone in the region,” TPLF and their foreign supporters have disseminated propaganda warfare designed to mislead US government officials and others. Some individuals and organizations unfortunately succumbed to such propaganda campaigns.  
  • On March 18, 2021 President Joe Biden sent Senator Chris Coons to Ethiopia to meet with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to express the US Administration’s concerns about the situation in Tigray. During his week-long stay in Addis Ababa, Senator Coons met Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and discussed about the situation in Tigray and other bilateral and regional issues. He also met Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen as well as the head of Ethiopian Human Right Commission, Dr. Daniel Bekele. The Ethiopian authorities said the meetings were productive.
  • On March 24, 2021, during daily Press Briefing at the Department of State, the Department’s Deputy Spokesperson, Jalina Porter said “Senator Coons had a successful visit when he traveled to Ethiopia, and obviously on behalf of President Biden. He went there, obviously, as a presidential emissary and expressed concerns – he expressed our concern for the ongoing crisis in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. And the reason we’re calling it successful is because Prime Minister Abiy publicly committed to deepening in a meaningful dialogue with the international community to address this conflict in Tigray, and he also shared publicly that he condemns the human rights violations that are going on. And again, we are grateful for Senator Coons traveling on our behalf to Ethiopia.”

8. Is the Amhara militia occupying “Western Tigray”? Did ethnic cleansing take place there?

The areas of Humera, Wolkait, Tsegede and Tselemt were part of the former Amharic speaking Begemdir Province bordering Sudan and stretched to the tripoint with Eritrea and the Sudan. After it took power in Ethiopia in 1991, TPLF incorporated these areas to Tigray region by force and illegally put them under “Western Tigray” administration. These territories were historically part of the Amhara region and the people of these areas speak both the Amharic and Tigrigna languages and practice Amharic traditions. There is no credible historical record that these areas were administered from Mekelle. The former Governor of Tigray, Prince Mengesha Seyoum, confirmed that this occupied area has never been part of Tigray proper before 1991.   

However, in 1991 TPLF incorporated these areas under Tigrayan administration for 29 years (1991 to 2020). During this time, TPLF rulers have terrorized the Amhara population, depopulated ethnic Amharas, killed thousands Amharas and illegally confiscated their properties. The Amhara people continued their struggle peacefully. After TPLF forces were defeated by the Federal Defense Force in November 2020, TPLF supporters have launched a campaign of lies and disinformation against the Amhara Regional Government and accusing the “Amhara militia” for occupying “their” land and committing human rights violations of Tigrayans living in those territories. It is this false narrative that US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and others have been talking about in the media and before Congressional hearings.  It is disappointing that U.S. officials should get involved – indeed interfere — in such sensitive internal matters.

Amharas and Tigrayans are brothers and sisters. They have lived together for millennia. They have intermarried, raised families and co-inhabited since the inception of Ethiopia. They share everything – common history, culture, language, religion and one homeland, Ethiopia. All Ethiopians achieved the greatest victory in all of African history in the Battle of Adwa in 1896.

The TPLF has done everything it can to divide and rule Ethiopia by weaponizing ethnicity. It has targeted Amharas for its most virulent policies. We hope the Biden Administration will help Ethiopia heal its wounds inflicted by TPLF. The issue of administrative boundaries as well as claims and counter-claims among different ethnic groups in Ethiopia is an internal administrative matter for Ethiopians. Ethiopians can settle their pending issues through negotiations and peaceful means. Accordingly, in August 2018 the Ethiopian Parliament established Administrative Boundaries and Identity Issues Commission that is mandated to investigate causes of identity and border disputes among federal states and propose solutions to the Parliament. The Tigray/Amhara border disputes can be peacefully handled by the Commission and the disputes will be solved accordingly. A call for withdrawing of Amhara militia from “Western Tigray” is not only a call based on misinformation, but interfering in the internal affairs of a sovereign country that has the right to deploy its military forces where ever they are needed.     

9. What is the current situation in Tigray?

The Law Enforcement Operation in Tigray was completed in three weeks, as of November 28, 2021. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has explained the law enforcement operation in Tigray has three phases: 1) bury those killed by the TPLF, reassess the situation, reorganize the Northern Command units, strengthen the Command’s fighting capability; 2) engage TPLF on all fronts, stabilize and return the region to normalcy; and 3) liberate Mekelle and bring the TPLF leaders suspected of crime and treason to justice.

The Tigray Interim Administration has been established with full participations of different political parties legally registered in Tigray. In May 2021 Dr. Abraham Belay is appointed as the new Head of Tigray Interim Administration replacing Dr. Mulu Nega, the first Interim President of the region. Dr. Abraham’s cabinet members are working with local officials to restore law and order and restore public services fully. Telephone and internet services have been restored in the region. Businesses, banks and transportation service have been restored. The Regional government has now established administrative units at all levels throughout Tigray region. There are reports about isolated hit and run, looting and banditry activities in some remote parts of the region but there is no organized force that will threaten peace and security in Tigray. Recently, TPLF remnants stepped up their terrorist attacks and killed 26 relief and government employees in Tigray.

In the meantime, the Ethiopian Parliament on May 6, 2021 unanimously voted in favor of listing TPLF as a terrorist organization for its engagement in terrorist activities with the aim to attain its political goals.

10. Biden Administration Positions on Ethiopia

The Biden Administration has taken very aggressive measures on Ethiopia citing serious human rights violations in Tigray as well as the lack of humanitarian assistance that has threatened the lives of millions in Tigray. On April 23, 2021 President Biden appointed Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman as U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa to “lead a U.S. diplomatic effort to address the interlinked political, security and humanitarian crises in the Horn of Africa” with full “full authority to coordinate U.S. policy across the region.” He travelled to Ethiopia and met Ethiopian officials. On May 20, 2021 US Senate passed S. Res. 97 which condemned “all violence against civilians” in Tigray and calling for the withdrawal of troops from neighboring Eritrea. It also called “…on the government of Ethiopia, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, and other belligerents in the conflict in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia to cease all hostilities, protect human rights, allow unfettered humanitarian access, and cooperate with independent investigations of credible atrocity allegations.” In June US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee is also expected to pass similar resolution on Ethiopia. Following Senate resolution, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken imposed visa restrictions against Ethiopian authorities and further announced “wide-ranging restrictions on economic and security assistance to Ethiopia” will be in place.

11. What is the future plan for Tigray Region?

The House of Federation (HoF) has established the Tigray Interim Administration which is fully in charge in Tigray. The HoF has suspended the status of TPLF members in the Federal Parliament. TPLF military and civilian officials suspected of criminal involvement have been identified and arrest warrants issued. Many of them are in custody waiting for justice to prevail. The Ethiopian Election Board has deregistered the TPLF because of its decision to carry out violent attacks against the Federal Government in utter violation of the Constitution of the country. Once peace, stability and rehabilitation are secured, the people of Tigray will hold election in accordance with Ethiopian Election Board schedule as stated in the Federal Constitution of Ethiopia.

Updated: June 11, 2021


Brief Background on the 27-year TPLF rule in Ethiopia

The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) is an ethnic based organization which originated in the Tigray Regional State, Northern Ethiopia. It was founded in 1975 as an ethnic Marxist- Leninist guerrilla group to fight the Military Government (DERG) in Ethiopia. It came to power after the military DERG regime collapsed in 1991. To gain Western acceptance, the TPLF adopted a vague policy of multi-party democracy and free market economy. However, behind its mask of liberal democracy, the TPLF kept its ideology of “revolutionary democracy” and “democratic centralism”. The TPLF remained the leading and dominant party within the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) from 1991 to 2019. The history of the TPLF is marked by violence, secrecy, excessive brutality and vengeance against its political opponents.

TPLF ruled Ethiopia for twenty-seven years with an iron fist. It has committed unimaginable crimes against humanity in Ethiopia for 27 years which were well documented by the annual human rights reports by the Department of State. After TPLF was forced out from power in 2018, its leaders vowed to resist the reform agenda of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and relentlessly worked to derail the country’s peaceful transition to democracy. One of such efforts was the attack of the Federal Army on November 3, 2020 to create havoc and instability throughout Ethiopia. After TPLF was decisively defeated by the Federal Army, its leaders are on the run to avoid justice for the despicable crime they committed against Ethiopians. Even though they carried out preemptive attack to oust Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s Administration on November 3, 2020, their longtime supporters in the current US Administration shielded them from condemnations and portrayed them as innocent victims. On the contrary, some members of the Biden Administration unfortunately have accused Ethiopia for the war and destruction initiated and carried out by TPLF leaders.