Eritrean Army Beni Amir tribe factions committed atrocities in Tigray

Eritrean troops promised to withdrawal from Tigray after committing rape, ransacking, stealing, and killing but never did

Commanders in the Tigray Defense Army are now reporting in several Tigray media sites that atrocities suffered by the people of Tigray were committed by Beni Amir factions of the Eritrean Army. This news comes after many Eritrean army soldiers have been captured and interrogated.

Easily identified by their dialects and characteristic facial markings they are now being heavily implicated in the raping, ransacking, and killing which happened in Tigray and still happening in Western Tigray. TDA sources say that Eritrean soldiers were acting under orders from the Eritrean and Ethiopian command structure.

Witnesses to the killing of more than 80 civilians and priests at St. Mary’s Church in Axum, an important Ethiopian Orthodox shrine, told Al Jazeera in February 2021 that many Eritrean soldiers had the dialect and facial markings of the Beni Amir tribe. Investigations by Amnesty International also report Eritrean Beni Amir soldiers committed many killings of civilians in Tigray.

Eritrea is semi-divided between Christians in the mountains and Muslim tribes in the valleys and periphery.  Beni Amirs are a clan originally based in Sudan and present day Eritrea which traces its roots to at least the 15th century CE of the clan leader, Amer Ibn Kunnu. They have similar lineage to Kushites along the Nile River rather than the Tegaru people of modern day Tigray who are Semitic in origin. For centuries they were allied with Egypt and Sudan and then with the Italian colonists. They frequently have a facial scar on the cheek below the eye consisting of two lines which is different then the “eleven sign” of the Tegaru of Tigray.

Beni Amir tribal markings on a young man

A Beni Amir leader known as Awate (Hamid Idris Awate) who trained and served in the Italian Army is credited with starting the armed struggle for independence. Then Idris Mohammed Adem started the Eritrean Liberation Front in 1960. 

A little more than 50% of the Eritrean population are Tigrinya (Semitic origin). While Beni Amir make up only a small percentage they have a long history of involvement with the Eritrean Army. Although initially in the 1970s the tyrant leader of Eritrea, Esaias Afwerki, was associated with the Christian Eritrean People’s Front which defeated their Muslim rival it now appears that Esaias who is now an atheist has created new bonds with at least a faction of the Beni Amir who have stayed in Eritrea serving in the military while many others left. They now have been reported as accepting Esaias Afwerki fascist ideology as their own.

The Beni Amirs were once cattle grazers but destruction of farmland drove them to city dwelling. Over the past century they have frequently been involved in land disputes and conflict between Sudan and Eritrea. 

Author: Professor Tony Magana

Professor Tony Magana is Head of the Department of Neurosurgery, School of Medicine, College of Health Sciences at Mekelle University in Mekelle, Ethiopia. He directs a neurosurgery residency and training program as well as neuroscience research.

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