Eritrean forces have started withdrawing from Ethiopia’s Tigray region in the north after fighting on the government’s side in a war against the region’s fugitive leaders from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
The United States, Germany, France and other G7 countries called on Friday for a swift, unconditional and verifiable withdrawal of the Eritrean soldiers, followed by a political process that is acceptable to all Ethiopians.
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That statement also urged “the establishment of a clear, inclusive political process that is acceptable to all Ethiopians, including those in Tigray, and which leads to credible elections and a wider national reconciliation process”.
Ethiopia’s foreign ministry announced the withdrawal but in a rejoinder issued late on Saturday it said the G7 foreign ministers’ statement had not acknowledged key steps being taken to address the needs of the region.
“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 guarding the national border,” it said in a statement.
Last month, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed admitted for the first time that troops from Eritrea entered Tigray during the conflict.
The admission came after months of denials from Ethiopia and Eritrea, even as credible accusations from rights groups and residents mounted that Eritrean soldiers have carried out massacres in Tigray.
It is not clear how many Eritrean soldiers have left. Some in Tigray assert that the Eritreans are not leaving at all. The region’s leaders have charged that Eritrean troops are sometimes dressed in Ethiopian military uniforms.
Ethiopia’s government faces intense pressure to end the war in Tigray which started in November last year when PM Abiy deployed troops following an attack on federal military facilities in the region.
The region’s fugitive leaders do not recognise Abiy’s authority after a national election was postponed last year amid the coronavirus pandemic.
There are increasing reports of atrocities, including massacres and rapes, in the war, and concern is growing about a lack of food and medical care in Tigray, home to six million of Ethiopia’s more than 110 million people.
The US has characterised some abuses in Tigray as “ethnic cleansing”, charges dismissed by Ethiopian authorities as unfounded.
Officials in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, have not cited a death toll in the war.
Last week, the United Nations and an Ethiopian rights agency announced they agreed to carry out a joint investigation into abuses in Tigray, where fighting persists as government troops hunt down fighters loyal to the TPLF, the party that dominated national politics for decades before the rise of Abiy.