Ethiopia said on Saturday that Eritrean troops fighting in its conflict-ridden Tigray region had “begun to evacuate”, a day after the G7 group of leading nations called for a speedy withdrawal.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced last week that Eritrean forces would leave Tigray, in the north of the country, just three days after finally acknowledging their presence amid growing reports of massacres and widespread sexual violence.
But residents of some Tigray towns and cities have continued to report the presence of Eritrean troops in recent days, and the G7 said in a statement on Friday that their exit “must be swift, unconditional and verifiable”.
In a response published online Saturday night, Ethiopia’s Foreign Ministry said the process had begun.
“As announced last week, the Eritrean troops who had crossed the border when provoked by the TPLF have now begun evacuating,” the statement said, adding that the Ethiopian military had now “taken over guarding the national border.”
The TPLF is the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, a former ruling party in Tigray that dominated national politics in Ethiopia for almost three decades before Abiy took power in 2018.
Abiy sent troops to Tigray in November, a move he said came in response to TPLF-orchestrated attacks on federal army camps.
Addis Ababa and Asmara have long denied that Eritreans were active in Tigray, contradicting testimonies from residents, rights groups, aid workers, diplomats and even some Ethiopian civilian and military officials.
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Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have accused Eritrean troops of massacring hundreds of people in the Tigray city of Axum in November.
AFP has separately documented a massacre allegedly carried out by Eritrean troops in the city of Dengolat, also in November.
Tigray’s interim leader, Mulu Nega, told AFP this week that the withdrawal was “a process” and would not happen immediately.
“Too low” aid
Friday’s G7 statement also called for an “independent, transparent and impartial inquiry” into alleged human rights abuses and “unrestricted humanitarian access”.
The Ethiopian Foreign Ministry’s statement on Saturday noted that a joint inquiry with “international human rights experts” would soon be launched.
It also said that foreign aid to respond to the conflict remained “far too low”.
“It has been made clear to the international community that the Ethiopian government has tried its best to reach more than 4.2 million people while the supply from the international partners is well below a third of what is needed,” it said.
Abiy declared victory in Tigray after federal forces captured the regional capital of Mekele in late November.
But fighting has continued in recent weeks, particularly in central and southern Tigray, and the International Crisis Group warned Friday that the conflict could be a protracted “stalemate.”