Martin Plott, author of Understanding Eritrea and a Senior Research Fellow at University College London, said that as tensions escalated between Mr. Abe and the TPLF, Mr. Isaias saw an opportunity to settle old scores and reassert himself in the region.
“He is a typical Isaias,” said Mr. Plot. “It seeks to project power in ways that are totally unimaginable to a leader of such a small country.”
Aid groups warn that without immediate access, Tigray will soon face a humanitarian catastrophe. The war broke out as villagers were preparing to harvest their crops, in a region already grappling with swarms of locusts and frequent droughts.
Refugees are especially vulnerable. According to the United Nations, there were 96,000 Eritrean refugees in Tigray at the start of the fighting, although some camps have since been emptied. An internal UN report on December 12, seen by the Times, described the situation in the Heatsats as “extremely dire”, without food or water.
Farther north in Shemelpa camp, Eritrean soldiers beat the refugees, handcuffed them, and left them in the sun all day, according to Ephrem, a resident who later fled to the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
He said, “They poured milk on their bodies until they were filled with flies.”
Ephrem said that soldiers later arrested 40 refugees and forced them to return across the border to Eritrea.
Declan Walsh reports in Nairobi, Kenya, and Simon Marks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Lara Jax contributed reporting from Washington, and Christian Tribert From New York.