(Updated on the third paragraph with the report of their arrival in Ethiopia. Updated again indicating they arrived with their weapons)

The leader of the largest Ethiopian rebel group fled from Eritrea, accompanied by hundreds of his troops.

About 683 fighters of the rebel group, Tigray People’s Democratic Movement (TPDM), made their way to Sudan on Friday overpowering an Eritrean army unit, according to multiple reports. TPDM’s leader, Mola Asgedom, was amongst them.

The fighters have reportedly crossed to Ethiopia on Saturday night through Humera and Metema with their weapons, according to a news on the quasi-official Fanabc today.

The group (a.k.a. “Demhit” – its Tigrigna acronym) was founded in 2001 when President Isaias Afeworki’s regime started arming Ethiopian rebels. Photo - TPDM leader Mola Asgedom

The incident took place merely four days after TPDM and three Eritrea based rebel groups formed a coalition, “United Front for Salvation of Ethiopia”, with Berhanu Nega (PhD) of Patriotic Ginbot 7 as chair and Mola Asgedom as deputy. Berhanu Nega, US resident reportedly travelled to Eritrea last July to lead an armed struggle. He was speaking about the coalition to the Voice of America Amharic service on Friday, apparently unaware of the developments on the ground.

TPDM’s fighters crossed the border to Sudan on Friday afternoon.

Mola Asgedom gathered his fighters in Gulje, a rural town near Sudan border, under various pretexts and started heading to the border town Omhajer as per his secret deal with Addis Ababa, according to EthiopiaFirst website citing anonymous government sources. The Eritrean government was alerted at that moment, the website added.

Eritrean army was immediately deployed to block the border crossings, according to multiple reports. An Eritrean opposition website indicated three brigades had been deployed.

TPDM fighters, however, overpowered the Eritrean troops and made their way to Hamdait, after several hours battle. Seven of them were killed and others wounded in the clash, according to the Turkish outlet Anatolia. There is no report of the Eritrean causality so far.

On Saturday, the fighters were camped in the city of Wad-Halwa, Kassala State, Eastern Sudan, handing over their arms to the authorities, while their leaders transferred to unknown place deep inside Sudan. Ethiopian authorities are reportedly in contact with their Sudanese counterparts regarding the matter.

Sudanese sources put the number of fighters who crossed the border at more than 683.

It was not immediately clear what prompted the flee.

There is no official statement from any of the governments so far.

TPDM was described in a United Nations report, as “the most important Ethiopian opposition group inside Eritrea, and it had a dual function as an Ethiopian armed opposition group and a protector of the Afwerki regime.” TPDM’s fighters are estimated in thousands and reportedly favored by Asmara receiving “good salary, nice cars that even the Eritrean army officers or government officials do not even have.”

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These photos are said to be of TPDM fighters – published on Sudanese media on Friday evening.

Photo - TPDM fighters in Sudan (1)

Photo - TPDM fighters in Sudan (2)

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Daniel Berhane

Daniel Berhane

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