Eritrea releases prisoners from Tigray, as TPLF continues shadow wars in Ethiopia

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On April 12, 2024, Eritrea released 46 prisoners it says, “were captured from the Tigray region of Ethiopia during recent conflicts”. These prisoners had been held, some of them for more than one year in different location across Eritrea. Media reports closely associated with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) said, “the majority of these detainees were apprehended from the Tahtay Adiyabo district in the Northwestern Zone of the Tigray region”.

Mebrahtom Gezaei, the head of peace and security in Tahtay Adiyabo, revealed that these individuals were held in a prison located in Barentu. According to him, they were initially subjected to abduction before enduring detention in Eritrea. Although local news in Tigray depicted these prisoners as abductees, information from the Eritrea suggests a majority were taken during the war from 2020 to 2022, and with a smaller number taken from border areas in the past year.

The release of these prisoners strikes a positive note. Speaking to authorities in Ethiopia, Abren was able to confirm, this latest release of Ethiopian prisoners held in Eritrea was a result of back-channel talks between Addis Ababa and Asmara. Furthermore, talks are underway between the two sides to resolve their long simmering border dispute and perhaps begin final demarcation based on the Algiers agreement. 

Relations between Eritrea and Ethiopia soured following the Pretoria Peace Agreement, ending the two-year war where both sides fought together to subdue a rebellion in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, which borders Eritrea. The regional government in Tigray accuses Eritrea of territorial infringements near Zalambesa, Irob and Gulakmeda. It has asked the federal government to intervene on its behalf. While indicating its desire to see the border demarcated, the federal government has been reluctant to enter another protracted entanglement with its northern neighbor, particularly given its tricky relationship with the TPLF.

Recent efforts to mend ties between the Interim Administration of Tigray, led by Getachew Reda and the authorities in Addis Ababa has been accompanied by little reported shadow wars, whereby TPLF hardliners have sought inflame the current conflict in Amhara. Little attention has been given to attempted incursion of TPLF affiliated militia via Sudan, north of Metema. The TPLF has also been seeking to insert itself as a third party instigator in ongoing clashes in Gambella between the Nuer tribe of South Sudan and the Anuak residing in Ethiopia.

The latest comments by Getachew Red, Interim president of the the Tigray region appears to be condemning the latest clashes near Alamata.

As recently as yesterday, there were reports of militiamen associated with the TPLF from Tigray making an assault on Alamata, a town in the disputed territory of Raya, claimed by Amhara. This latest move appears to be intended at complicating federal plans for a lasting settlement of the issue through referendum, similar to ones that have been taking place in southern Ethiopia.

Such clandestine activities are elevating mistrust on all sides, endangering the viability of the Pretoria Peace Agreement. So far these pinprick provocations have been largely ignored by the federal government, which does not want to get dragged into yet another cycle of violence, but the question remains for how long. 

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