Eritrea has acknowledged its troops are taking part in the war in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region but has promised to pull them out amid mounting international pressure.
The first explicit admission of Eritrea’s role in the fighting came in a letter posted online late on Friday by the country’s information minister, written by its ambassador to the United Nations and addressed to the Security Council.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into Tigray in November last year to disarm and detain leaders of the region’s once-dominant political party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
For months, the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments denied Eritreans were involved, contradicting testimony from residents, rights groups, aid workers, diplomats and even some Ethiopian civilian and military officials.
Abiy finally acknowledged the Eritreans’ presence in March while speaking to MPs, and promised soon after that they would leave.
Friday’s letter from Eritrea said, with the TPLF “largely thwarted”, Asmara and Addis Ababa “have agreed – at the highest levels – to embark on the withdrawal of the Eritrean forces and the simultaneous redeployment of Ethiopian contingents along the international boundary”.
On Thursday, UN aid chief Mark Lowcock told the UNSC that despite Abiy’s earlier promise, there had been no evidence of a withdrawal of Eritrean troops from the region.
He also said aid workers “continue to report new atrocities which they say are being committed by Eritrean Defense Forces”.
Tigray residents have repeatedly accused Eritrean forces of mass rape and massacres, including in the towns of Axum and Dengolat.
Eritrea and Ethiopia blame the conflict on TPLF-orchestrated attacks on federal army camps in early November and describe it as a campaign to restore law and order.