KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) – Ethiopia’s prime minister said on Friday that Eritrea had agreed to withdraw its forces from the Tigris region, where eyewitnesses described their looting, killing and rape of civilians.
The announcement by Prime Minister Abi Ahmed’s office comes amid mounting pressure from the United States and other countries on the deadly crisis in Tigris.
Abi said in a statement after his visit to Eritrea that Ethiopian forces would “immediately take over” the protection of the border areas.
Abiy only last week acknowledged the presence of troops from Eritrea who had long been Tigers over Tigris leaders who once dominated the Ethiopian government.
The new statement did not say how many Eritrean soldiers had been in Ethiopia, although eyewitnesses had praised the thousands.
Eritrea, one of the world’s most secretive countries, did not immediately comment.
Abiy shook the region in 2018, establishing peace after a long border war with Eritrea in the Tigris region, an achievement for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. But since the current Tigray conflict erupted in November, Abiy has been accused of collaborating with Eritrea to pursue Tigray leaders who have now fled.
Abi’s statement accuses the former Tigray leaders of launching a clash by attacking Ethiopian forces and then dragging Eritrea into the war, firing rockets at the Eritrean capital. But eyewitnesses say the Eritrean military has been involved since the beginning of the fighting.
The United States had demanded that Eritrean troops leave Tigray immediately weeks ago, but pressure has mounted in recent days as the Biden administration sent Senator Chris Koons to Ethiopia about a week ago to negotiate with Abiy for hours.
No one knows how many thousands of people, especially civilians, were killed in the battles of Tigray. The region, with a population of about 6 million, is largely isolated from the rest of the world, and despite some progress in aid delivery, aid workers have warned that other food supplies are coming in amid fears of famine.
And it is only in recent days that the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has announced that it is allowed to enter the Tigris region with limited capacity to support investigations into alleged atrocities, including mass rapes by Eritrean soldiers and others.
A spokesman for Abi’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but did not comment on the value or accuracy of the information which was allegedly leaked to the media.