Eritrean troops are accused of abducting farmers and stealing livestock in Ethiopia’s Tigray

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Eritrean troops are abducting farmers and stealing hundreds of livestock in border regions of Ethiopia’s Tigray region, 15 months after a cease-fire ended a civil war there and called for their withdrawal, according to an aid memo seen by The Associated Press.

The memo prepared on Jan. 31 by the Ethiopia Health Cluster is based on an assessment of two districts near the Eritrean border by U.N. agencies and nongovernmental organizations. It documents several instances of kidnapping and livestock raiding by Eritrean forces. The memo was provided to the AP by an official from a U.N. agency on condition that its name not be disclosed.

Yemane Gebremeskel, Eritrea’s information minister, denied the allegations, telling the AP on Friday that the reports of livestock raiding and abductions are “false.”

In one incident, on Jan. 22, eight herders were abducted with their donkeys and camels. In another, on Dec. 6, six people were abducted along with 56 livestock. In a third, on Dec. 5, Eritrean soldiers stole 100 animals.

The document notes that several parts of the two border districts are either “fully occupied or patrolled” by Eritrean’s military, meaning people displaced by the conflict can’t return to their homes and cultivate their land. In many areas, Ethiopia’s federal military has no presence and is failing to protect people, it says.

The document also reports at least 50 starvation deaths in the subdistricts of Shimblina and Ademeyti, which are hit by drought and hard for humanitarians to access.

Hundreds of hunger deaths are believed to have occurred across the region in recent weeks amid drought and the impacts of an aid suspension. Tigray’s authorities are warning that the situation could result in a full-blown famine.

Eritrea was a key ally of Ethiopia’s government in the two-year war against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, or TPLF, Tigray’s former ruling party. Its troops stand accused of human rights abuses, including massacres of civilians and sexual enslavement.

The peace deal that ended the war in November 2022 called for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Tigray. Eritrea wasn’t a signatory. It still occupies several areas along the border with Ethiopia, one of the world’s most contested frontiers.

On the anniversary of the cease-fire, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for Eritrean troops to pull out.

“More actions are needed to bring lasting peace and stability to Tigray,” he said.

Although the cease-fire ended bloody fighting, its implementation has been sluggish. There has been little progress on transitional justice for war-time crimes, while a disarmament programme for hundreds of thousands of former rebels is yet to start.

On Wednesday, the TPLF called on the international community to support the agreement’s implementation. The federal government responded Thursday by saying funds had been pledged to fulfill its commitments.

Since the Tigray war ended, violence has gripped the neighboring state of Amhara, where the government is battling a military that had fought alongside it against the TPLF.

On Thursday, Ethiopia’s federal parliament voted to extend a state of emergency introduced in August to quell the unrest.

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