Eritrea’s Mass Mobilization as Tensions Rise in Ethiopia

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Eritrea has been criticized for its mandatory and decades-long military service (file photo)

Eritrea mobilizes military reservists to bolster the army that has helped neighboring Ethiopia in its fight against rebels.

Security forces in many areas have stopped people to check if they are exempt from military service.

Groups of men wept as they said goodbye to relatives, witnesses say.

Many in the capital Asmara were notified on Thursday and moved to the border with Ethiopia’s Tigray region within hours, sources told the TBEN.

Reservists up to age 55 have been called up, they said.

Eritrea has a mandatory, decades-long military draft, which has been widely criticized by human groups, but analysts say the latest mobilization efforts are linked to the civil war in northern Ethiopia – a conflict that has recently flared up again after five months of relative peace.

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The Eritrean government has not responded to the reports.

Witnesses told TBEN News Tigrinya that Thursday mobilization messages were distributed in the capital, its second largest city, Keren, the western city of Tessenai and other areas.

They called on reservists to report to their respective headquarters, while also advising that they carry their own supplies, including blankets and water containers.

Mothers, children and wives cried as they said goodbye to their sons, fathers, brothers and husbands, sources told the TBEN.

Those who do not heed the call have been warned of dire consequences, but some are reportedly ignoring them.

Eritrea has been fighting alongside the troops of Ethiopia’s central government since the civil war broke out in Tigray in late 2020.

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Aid agencies say hundreds of thousands have been killed and millions displaced by the war, and many more remain desperate for food.

Several human rights groups have accused Eritrean soldiers of committing atrocities in Ethiopia, but these allegations have been denied by Eritrean officials.

The US has imposed sanctions on the Eritrean armed forces and the ruling PFDJ party in response to their involvement in the conflict.

President Isaias Afwerki has ruled Eritrea since the country seceded from Ethiopia in 1993, but between 1998 and 2000 the two nations fought a brutal and costly war over a disputed border region.

A 20-year military stalemate ensued until Abiy Ahmed became Ethiopia’s prime minister in 2018. The peace accord won Mr. Abiy the Nobel Peace Prize a year later.

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Isaias and Abiy hold hands

President Isaias Afwerki (left) welcomed Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to Asmara in 2018

The two leaders later united against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a common enemy whose elites dominated Ethiopia for three decades before Abiy came to power.

The Ethiopian government accuses the TPLF leaders, who control the northern region of Tigray, of plotting to destabilize the country, while Mr Isaias considers them a sworn enemy.

Diplomatically isolated, Eritrea is a highly militarized state that controls almost all aspects of people’s lives.

The repression has led many young people to flee the country.

During the rule of Mr Isaias, apart from the fight against Ethiopia, Eritrea has once been at war with all its neighbors – Yemen in 1995, Sudan in 1996 and Djibouti in 2008.

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