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US believes Eritrean soldiers helping Ethiopia's fight against rebels: report

US believes Eritrean soldiers helping Ethiopia's fight against rebels: report
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U.S. officials have reportedly come to the conclusion that Eritrean soldiers have entered Ethiopia to assist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government in its fight against opposition forces. 

Reuters reported Tuesday that a U.S. government source and five regional diplomats briefed on the assessment said that evidence from satellite images, intercepted communications and anecdotal reports appear to confirm Eritrean involvement. 

However, Reuters noted that both countries have denied Eritrea’s participation in the offensive against the opposition group Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

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“There doesn’t appear to be a doubt anymore. It’s being discussed by U.S. officials on calls — that the Eritreans are in Tigray — but they aren’t saying it publicly,” the U.S. government source, who has had access to internal calls, told the news service.

The two nations signed a peace treaty in 2018, identifying the Tigray rebellion force as a mutual enemy. 

While the U.S. considers Ethiopia a major ally in the region, Washington has accused Eritrea of severe human rights violations, with the State Department on Monday renewing its country of particular concern designation over reported violations of religious freedom under the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act. 

Eritrea has also faced allegations of jailing political opponents and forcing its citizens into long-term military or government service. Eritrea has denied these claims, accusing Western nations of carrying out smear campaigns. 

According to Reuters, a senior diplomat from another country confirmed the presence of Eritrean forces in Ethiopia, saying “thousands” of Eritrean soldiers were likely involved. 

The State Department did not confirm the accounts, though a spokesman said it would be concerned by any Eritrean involvement and that its embassy in Asmara is urging restraint to officials.

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Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh Mohammed said, “We are not involved. It’s propaganda,” when contacted by Reuters on Saturday. 

Ethiopia has also denied the reports, but Abiy did say last week that some government troops were given assistance after retreating into Eritrea earlier on in the conflict. 

Abiy’s spokeswoman told Reuters that questions surrounding Eritrean involvement should be directed to Eritrea. 

Last month, the Ethiopian military announced that it was fully in control of the capital city of the Tigray region hours after it launched an offensive against the TPLF. 

The announcement followed a day of fighting against the opposition group, which retains a foothold in Tigray after it was swept out of national power in 2018 and then sidelined by reforms under Abiy’s government.