ADDIS ABABA, 27 March 2021 – Eritrean troops fighting alongside Ethiopian federal forces in the country’s northern Tigray region will withdraw, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali has told lawmakers.
PM Abiy Ahmed did not say when exactly Eritrean troops were expected to withdraw from the region.
It is only earlier this week that, for the first time, Abiy Ahmed admitted that Eritrean troops were in Tigray, expolaining their presence – previously denied – by saying the Eritrean forces feared they would be attacked by Tigray’s fighters.
Until this week, Eritrean President Afwerki and PM Abiy Ahmed had repeatedly rejected accusations by the United States, the United Nations and the European Union that troops from Asmar were fighting in the region.
Eritrean forces were there to back Ethiopian federal forces as the latter fought against soldiers loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) which governed the region.
It is not known when Eritrean forces first entered Tigray, but Ethiopian federal forces were ordered into the region last November 4 after TPLF leaders challenged the authority of the federal government.
Ousted TPLF leaders who are now on the run defied Addis Ababa in organizing elections, declaring the prime minister illegitimate after Addis Ababa postponed elections citing difficulties organizing campaigns as the COVID-19 pandemic was exploding.
TPLF soldiers were accused of attacking two military bases in the region, reportedly killing 50 soldiers and looting weapons.
The TPLF is considered an enemy force by Eritrea and have never been forgiven by Asmara for the role they played in trying to prevent the emergence of Eritrea as a sovereign country.
Ethiopia’s bitter war with Eritrea did not come to an end until the inauguration in 2018 of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali – a move which earned him the Nobel Peace Prize the following year.
Thousands of mostly young people who fled forced life conscription into the army in Eritrea or who fled political persecution came across the border and were housed in refugee camps in Tigray.
Many of them got involved in politics from exile, irritating Asmara whose forces rounded up and forcefully repatriated to Asmara (rendition) some of the refugees they found in camps in Tigray.
The Shimelba and Hitsats camps in Tigray, where an estimated 22,000 Eritrean refugees were offered a safe haven, was attacked, ransacked and completely destroyed by Eritrean forces.
Thousands of people have been killed in the ongoing armed conflict in Tigray, with Eritrean forces accused of perpetrating the massacres of last November 28 and 29 in the holy city of Aksum.
An estimated 800 people were slaughtered during those two days of mass killings, according to activists – 300, according to the United Nations.
Officials in Asmara were quick to dismiss accusations of their troops committing atrocity cirimes in Tigray – in particular rejecting any involvement in the massacres in the holy city of Aksum.
Eritrea’s foreign minister downplayed the accusations as “preposterous” claiming that the accusations themselves were merely “fabricated”.
Hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes in Tigray over the nearly five months of armed fighting, with an estimated 100,000 of them fleeing into refugee camps in neighboring Sudan.
When and if Eritrean forces effectively withdraw, the fighting between the TPLF and Ethiopian federal forces is likely to continue, given pledges by ousted TPLF leaders that they will not lay down their weapons.