Eritrea will withdraw its troops from Ethiopia, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said on Friday, days after acknowledging for the first time that Eritrean forces had entered Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region during the country’s five-month-old conflict.
“The government of Eritrea has agreed to withdraw its forces out of the Ethiopian border. The Ethiopian National Defense Force will take over guarding the border areas effective immediately,” Abiy said in a statement on Twitter after meeting with Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki in the Eritrean capital of Asmara.
The Ethiopian National Defence Force will take over guarding the border areas immediately, Abiy said.
Thousands of civilians are believed to have been killed since November, when Abiy launched a major military operation against Tigray’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), sending in national troops and fighters from Ethiopia’s Amhara region.
CNN has previously reported that soldiers from neighboring Eritrea had crossed into Tigray and perpetrated extrajudicial killings, massacres, sexual violence and other human rights abuses.
Abiy claimed on Friday that the TPLF had provoked Eritrea’s military involvement by firing rockets into its capital Asmara, and thereby prompting the Eritrean government to “maintain its national security.”
CNN was unable to independently verify the claim. The TPLF has denied starting the conflict, and has accused Ethiopia and its Eritrean allies of genocide and other crimes against humanity.
Separate investigations by CNN and Amnesty International in February revealed evidence of massacres carried out by Eritrean forces in the village of Dengelat and city of Axum.
And, last week, CNN and the UK’s Channel 4 News both published investigations into rape being used by Ethiopian and Eritrean troops as a weapon of war against women in Tigray.
On Tuesday, just days after the reports were released, Abiy said his government would hold accountable any soldier found responsible for rape or looting in Tigray – acknowledging that Eritrean troops were fighting alongside Ethiopian forces after months of denials.
“Reports indicate that atrocities have been committed in Tigray region,” Abiy wrote in a post on his Twitter account. “Regardless of the TPLF propaganda of exaggeration, any soldier responsible for raping our women & looting communities in the region will be held accountable as their mission is to protect.”
Abiy was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for resolving a long-running conflict with neighboring Eritrea, ending two decades of hostilities. Critics say that Abiy’s much-lauded peace deal with Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki set the stage for the two sides to wage war against the TPLF – their mutual enemy.
On Monday, the Eritrean embassy of the UK and Ireland responded to CNN’s repeated requests for comment by denying allegations of wrongdoing by Eritrean soldiers and denying that Eritrean troops were in Ethiopia.
CNN’s Gianluca Mezzofiore, Katie Polglase, Nima Elbagir, Barbara Arvanitidis and Alex Platt contributed to this report