Reports indicate that large numbers of Ethiopian rebels that previously supported Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki have defected.
These reports from Sudan (below) and Ethiopia suggest that rebels from the Tigray People’s Democratic Movement (TPDM) who had been playing an important role in supporting President Isaias, fled to Sudan.
The TPDM were apparently used to provide security for the president following the unsuccessful ‘Forto’ military uprising in January 2013.
There are unconfirmed reports that there were clashes with Eritrean armed forces and that the TPDM fighters are now in Ethiopia.
The same sources suggest that the dissent within the TPDM arose from the arrival of other Ethiopia rebels – Gimbot 7 of Berhanu Nega – who were allegedly being given preferential treatment by the Eritrean government.
I have updated this with a note from Daniel Berhane at the end and with a fresh report from the Sudan Tribune, quoting the Ethiopian government confirming that 800 members of the TPDM have been repatriated.
September 12, 2015 (KHARTOUM) – A well placed Sudanese source revealed today that a dissident Ethiopian general fled to Sudan on Friday evening along with his soldiers after clashes with the Eritrean army.
- Undated footage photo of Mola Asgedom (YouTube)
The source who spoke to the Turkey-based Anadolu news agency on condition of anonymity said that General Mola Asgedom who heads the Tigray People’s Democratic Movement (TPDM) that is based in Eritrea, arrived at the Sudanese town of Hamdait at the border triangle between Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan.
He explained that Asgedom escaped to Sudan after armed clashes broke out with the Eritrean army at the outskirts of the Eritrean city of Omhajer on Friday morning.
The source went on to say that Asgedom and 683 of his forces handed over their weapons to the Sudanese authorities.
He explained that Khartoum succeeded in preventing the escalation of clashes between Asgedom’s forces and the Eritrean army and evacuated the soldiers to Wad al-Hilu town in Kassala State while their leaders were transferred to unspecified areas inside Sudan.
He added that 7 of the Ethiopian opposition forces were killed during the pursuit by Eritrean troops to its western border with Ethiopia and Sudan.
Eyewitnesses in the border areas said they heard gunfire during the clashes, noting that the entrance of Ethiopian opposition forces to Hamdait created a state of confusion among the population.
A pro-Ethiopian opposition TV confirmed that Asgedom turned himself in to the Sudan, without giving details.
The Eritrea-based Ethiopian opposition coalition consider TPDM to be the military wing while the Ginbot 7 of Berhanu Nega lead the political forefront.
Ethiopia also backs Eritrean opposition groups in the context of proxy wars between the two longtime foes.
1/No matter how we put it, the fact that hundreds foreign fighters could move at whim tells volumes about the state of Eritrea. Why were they allowed to carry their arms within Eritrea soil, by the way?
2/The government told us they were in contact with Mola Asgedom for about a year. That’s the time after Andargachew Tsige’s arrest. Any connection?
3/What motivated Mola and his ranking officers and fighters? They can’t suddenly abandon their cause. Could it be due to the increasing push from Isaias and Ginbot 7 to exacerbate conflicts on Amhara-Tigrai border as a tactic?
4/Is there any TPDM fighter left behind? Obviously, the estimate that TPDM has tens of thousand fighters is inflated. Isaias wouldn’t let that big army under one foreign leader command at the heart of Eritrea. Yet, we can safely assume there may be a thousand or more behind.
However, the question is, can Isaias trust the rest anymore? Or can they trust each other?
5/Why did the government try to portray Mola and his fighters as heros? One, it could be part of the deal. They might have promised him his name will be restored.
Two, it could be to make their amnesty and treatment acceptable to the regional and military officials who certainly loath TPDM.
6/Some people ask why didn’t Mola kill Isaias or Berhanu Nega? First, we have no reason to believe Mola would want to risk his life for that. Second, we have no reason to think Ethiopia wants to assassinate Isaias or change the Asmaran regime.
August 13, 2015 (ADDIS ABABA) – The Ethiopian security service on Sunday announced the return of a dissident Ethiopian general to the country with 800 rebel fighters, and praised the neighbouring Sudan for securing their repatriation to the country.
- Undated footage photo of Mola Asgedom (YouTube)
The official Ethiopian TV broadcast a statement welcoming the return of the Tigray People’s Democratic Movement (TPDM) fighters from Eritrea and described the move as a “Great Victory”.
The statement further said the return of TPDM leader General Mola Asgedom comes as results of secret contacts conducted by the Ethiopian intelligence and security service with him since a year ago.
The Ethiopian TV praised “the Sudanese government’s role in resolving the crisis,” describing it as a “historical role that the people and the Government of Ethiopia will never forget”.
It stressed that the Sudanese forces “strongly responded” to attempts by the Eritrean authorities to hunt Asdedom’s fighters inside the Sudanese territory, adding the latter received all the needed logistical and humanitarian support from the Sudan Armed Forces.
Ethiopian and Eritrea trade accusations of support to rebel groups from both sides since the eruption of a bloody war between 1998 and 2000 over border disputes. However, the Sudanese government was keen to remain at equal distance from both sides.
On Saturday, a Sudanese security official disclosed that the Gen Asgedom and his troops arrived into the Sudanese town of Hamdait at the border triangle between Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan on Friday evening after clashes with the Eritrean army on the same day in Eritrean city of Omhajer.
The Sudanese official went on to say that Asgedom and 683 of his forces handed over their weapons to the Sudanese authorities.
He further pointed that the Sudanese army successfully prevented the escalation of clashes between Asgedom’s forces and the Eritrean army and evacuated the Ethiopian fighters to Wad al-Hilu town in Kassala State while their leaders were transferred to unspecified areas inside Sudan.
The Eritrean government did not react to these reports till Sunday evening.