Eritrean soldiers, who fought in support of Ethiopia’s federal government during its two-year civil war in the northern Tigray region, are pulling out of two big towns and headed towards the border, witnesses and an Ethiopian official told the Reuters news agency.
Eritrea’s Information Minister Yemane Gebremeskel told Reuters on Friday he could neither confirm nor deny the information. Another Ethiopian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed Eritrean troops were withdrawing from Axum and Shire.
Getachew Reda, a spokesman for the Tigrayan forces, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The withdrawals from Shire and Axum follow a November 2 ceasefire signed by Ethiopia’s government and Tigray regional forces that require the removal of foreign troops from Tigray.
Eritrea, however, was not a party to the deal, and its troops’ ongoing presence in big Tigrayan population centres has raised questions about the durability of the accord.
It was not immediately clear if the Eritrean troops were leaving Tigray entirely or just pulling back from certain towns.
Three aid workers in Axum and Shire said they saw several trucks and dozens of cars packed with Eritrean soldiers on Thursday leaving towards the border town of Sheraro. One of the aid workers said the soldiers were waving goodbye.
One of the aid workers said all of the Eritrean soldiers had left Shire, but another said that a significant number had remained behind. It was not immediately clear what explained the discrepancy.
Tigray residents have accused the Eritrean soldiers of continuing to loot, arrest, and kill civilians after the ceasefire.
Eritrean authorities have not directly responded to the allegations.
During the war, Eritrean troops were accused by residents and human rights groups of various cases of abuse, including the killing of hundreds of civilians in Axum during a 24-hour period in November 2020. Eritrea rejected the accusations.
Eritrea considers the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which leads Tigrayan forces, its enemy. Eritrea and Ethiopia fought a border war between 1998 and 2000 when the TPLF dominated the federal government.
After a slow start, Ethiopia’s government and Tigrayan authorities have taken several steps in the past week to implement the peace deal.
On Thursday, representatives from both sides met in Tigray’s capital Mekelle to set up a monitoring team to assess the enforcement of the agreement.
Federal police also entered Mekelle in accordance with the truce, state-owned Ethiopian Airlines resumed flights and Ethio Telecom reconnected its services to the capital and 27 other towns.