KHARTOUM: Ethiopia’s prime minister said Friday that Eritrea has agreed to withdraw its forces from the Tigray region, where witnesses have described them looting, killing and raping civilians.
The statement by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office comes after intense pressure from the United States and others to address the deadly crisis in Tigray.
Abiy’s statement after a visit to Eritrea said that Ethiopian forces will take over guarding the border areas “effective immediately.”
Abiy only in the past week has acknowledged the presence of soldiers from Eritrea, long an enemy of the Tigray leaders who once dominated Ethiopia’s government.
The new statement doesn’t say how many Eritrean soldiers have been in Ethiopia, though witnesses have estimated well in the thousands.
There was no immediate comment from Eritrea, one of the world’s most secretive countries.
Abiy shocked the region in 2018 by making peace with Eritrea after a long border war in the Tigray region, an achievement for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. But since the current Tigray conflict began in November, Abiy has been accused of teaming up with Eritrea to pursue the now-fugitive Tigray leaders.
Abiy’s statement accuses the former Tigray leaders of starting the conflict by attacking Ethiopian forces, then drawing Eritrea into the fighting by firing rockets into Eritrea’s capital. But witnesses have alleged the involvement of Eritrean soldiers from the start of the fighting.
The U.S. weeks ago demanded that Eritrean soldiers leave Tigray immediately, and pressure increased in recent days with the Biden administration dispatching Sen. Chris Coons to Ethiopia nearly a week ago for hours of talks with Abiy.
No one knows how many thousands of people, especially civilians, have been killed in the Tigray fighting. The region of some 6 million people has been largely cut off from the world, and despite some progress in aid delivery, humanitarian workers have warned that food and other supplies coming in are far from enough amid fears of starvation.
And only in recent days has the United Nations human rights office said it’s been allowed into the Tigray region in a limited capacity to support investigations into alleged atrocities including mass rapes by Eritrean soldiers and others.
A spokeswoman for Abiy’s office did not immediately respond to questions about Friday’s statement, including why the Eritreans had not withdrawn after earlier requests.