Ethiopia says Eritrea agrees to withdraw troops from Tigray

FILE - In this Monday, Nov. 30, 2020 file photo, Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed responds to questions from members of parliament at the prime minister's office in the capital Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Ethiopia's leader said in an address before lawmakers Tuesday, March 23, 2021 that atrocities have occurred in Tigray, the country's northern region where fighting persists as government troops hunt down its fugitive leaders. (AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene, File)
FILE - In this Monday, Nov. 30, 2020 file photo, Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed responds to questions from members of parliament at the prime minister's office in the capital Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Ethiopia's leader said in an address before lawmakers Tuesday, March 23, 2021 that atrocities have occurred in Tigray, the country's northern region where fighting persists as government troops hunt down its fugitive leaders. (AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene, File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

KHARTOUM – Ethiopia's prime minister said Friday that Eritrea has agreed to withdraw its forces from the Tigray region, where witnesses have described them looting, killing and raping civilians.

The statement by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office comes after intense pressure from the United States and others to address the deadly crisis in Tigray.

Abiy’s statement after a visit to Eritrea said that Ethiopian forces will take over guarding the border areas “effective immediately.”

Abiy only in the past week has acknowledged the presence of soldiers from Eritrea, long an enemy of the Tigray leaders who once dominated Ethiopia’s government.

The new statement doesn’t say how many Eritrean soldiers have been in Ethiopia, though witnesses have estimated well in the thousands.

Eritrea in a statement said Abiy and its president, Isaias Afwerki, discussed in depth the “common strategic partnership and envisioned joint trajectory, the vicious military attacks unleashed in the past five months, and attendant disinformation campaigns” but it did not specifically mention Tigray. Eritrea’s statement added that “important lessons have been gleaned from temporary hurdles precipitated by this reality that will further bolster the joint undertakings by the two sides in the period ahead.”

In a tweet, Eritrea’s ambassador to Japan said that “as of today #Eritrea/n Defense Forces units shall hand over all posts within the borders of #Ethiopia which were vacated by the Ethiopian Defense Forces.”

Abiy shocked the region in 2018 by making peace with Eritrea after a long border war in the Tigray region, an achievement for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. But since the current Tigray conflict began in November, Abiy has been accused of teaming up with Eritrea to pursue the now-fugitive Tigray leaders.