NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Witnesses in some towns in Ethiopia’s Tigray region say troops from neighboring Eritrea have begun withdrawing in large convoys, a potentially significant development after a devastating conflict in the region ended late last year went.
The presence of the Eritreans, despite a peace agreement signed between the federal government of Ethiopia and the Tigray Forces in November, was seen as a major challenge to the implementation of the agreement. Eritrea, which is allied with Ethiopian forces, was not a party to the deal that ended two years of fighting that researchers estimate has killed 500,000 people.
“Eritrean forces today began withdrawing from the Shire in large convoys,” a humanitarian worker in the town of Shire told The Associated Press on Friday, describing several dozen vehicles carrying soldiers in Eritrean military uniforms. The witness, who spoke on condition of anonymity like others for fear of retribution, said some vehicles were heading towards Sheraro near the Eritrean border.
An official in the town of Axum said residents had been told to avoid the main road as “Eritrean forces began to evacuate the area”. A resident of the town of Adwa confirmed the withdrawal of Eritrean forces there.
Ethiopian government spokesman Legesse Tulu and a spokesman for the Tigray side did not immediately respond to questions.
Eritrean forces have entered the devastating conflict in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian and Eritrean governments denied the participation of Eritrea, one of the world’s most withdrawn countries, until Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed confirmed it in March
Rights groups, ethnic Tigrayans and some Western countries have expressed concern over the presence of Eritrean forces, which have been blamed for some of the worst abuses in the conflict, including widespread rape. Even after the peace accord was signed, witnesses claimed that some Eritrean forces continued to loot and kill.
In an apparent acknowledgment of its involvement in the conflict, the Eritrean embassy in Ethiopia on Wednesday published excerpts from the state-run newspaper Hadas Eritrea, which said: “The favors rendered to Ethiopia by the Eritrean government and people are written in golden colours go down in history and in the region… and (it) has rid itself of an international threat,” alluding to the Tigray forces, which the government of Eritrea has long viewed as a threat.
The Ethiopian military “has not lost the support of the highly disciplined, combat-capable and unrivaled Eritrean army over the past two years,” the newspaper excerpt said. “Because of this, the defeat of the (Tigray forces) treacherous group was completed with humiliation and disarmament.”
Eritrea was a bitter enemy of the Tigray Peoples’ Liberation Front, which dominated Ethiopian politics for almost 30 years until Abiy came to power in 2018. Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a bloody border war from 1998 to 2000, but Abiy made peace with Eritrea shortly thereafter after taking office.
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