NAIROBI (Reuters) – Eritrean forces have begun to withdraw from the Tigray region in northern Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry said, following growing reports that they are responsible for human rights abuses, including rape, looting. and killings of civilians.
The United States, Germany, France and other G7 countries called on Friday for a swift, unconditional and verifiable withdrawal of Eritrean soldiers, followed by a political process acceptable to all Ethiopians.
In a reply issued late Saturday through the Foreign Ministry, Ethiopia said the G7 foreign ministers’ statement had failed to recognize key steps taken to address the region’s needs.
“The Eritrean troops who had crossed the border when provoked by the TPLF have now started to evacuate and the Ethiopian National Defense Force has taken over the surveillance of the national border,” he said in a statement, referring to the Liberation of the People of Tigray.
Electrical and telephone connections to Tigray have been interrupted for the past four days, making it difficult to verify Eritrea’s withdrawal. Reuters reporters in Tigray last month saw Eritrean soldiers in major cities and main roads, well beyond the border area.
For months, Eritrea and Ethiopia denied the presence of Eritrean troops despite dozens of eyewitness accounts. On March 23, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed acknowledged his presence after mounting international pressure. Eritrea has yet to acknowledge that its soldiers are in Ethiopia.
Clashes broke out in Tigray in early November after forces loyal to the ruling party at the time, the TPLF, attacked military bases throughout the region. In late November, the TPLF withdrew from the regional capital, Mekelle, and the Ethiopian government declared victory.
Thousands of people died in the conflict, hundreds of thousands have been forced from their homes, and there are shortages of food, water and medicine in the region. The government says most of the fighting has stopped, but there are still isolated incidents of shooting.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said this week that there were “clashes and ambushes in most of the region.” Last month, an aid organization also witnessed the aftermath of an ambush of a military convoy and extrajudicial killings of civilians immediately afterward on a main road.
The Foreign Ministry said humanitarian organizations have now been granted full access to the region.
OCHA said on its website: “In parts of the south and southeast of Tigray, for example, access has been reduced for more than a month and the highway from Alamata to Mekelle remains closed, blocking humanitarian operations in the area.”
The Foreign Ministry said it would soon begin a joint investigation with outside experts into alleged human rights violations and urged donors to send more food and medical aid.
Nairobi Newsroom report, written by Duncan Miriri, edited by Frances Kerry and Timothy Heritage