Eritrea will pull its troops out of Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said on Friday, a potential breakthrough in a drawn-out conflict that has seen atrocities carried out against civilians.
The announcement comes as Mr. Abiy, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, faces mounting pressure to end fighting, in which both Eritrean and Ethiopian troops stand accused of abuses, including mass killings and rapes.
Mr. Abiy sent troops into Tigray on November 4 after accusing the region’s once-dominant ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), of attacks on Army camps.
For months both Addis Ababa and Asmara denied Eritrean troops were in Tigray, contradicting accounts from residents, aid workers, diplomats and even some Ethiopian civilian and military officials.
Meeting with Afwerki
Mr. Abiy finally admitted Eritrea’s role in an appearance before lawmakers on Tuesday, then flew on Thursday to Asmara to meet with Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki.
During that visit “the government of Eritrea has agreed to withdraw its forces out of the Ethiopian border,” Mr. Abiy said in a statement on Twitter.
“The Ethiopian National Defense Force will take over guarding the border areas effective immediately.”
Eritrean Information Minister Yemane Gebremeskel did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.
In a statement on Friday, his office made no mention of any deal on a troop withdrawal, saying only that the two sides “agreed to hold follow-up consultative meetings” in Addis Ababa.
But the country’s Ambassador to Japan, Estifanos Afeworki, said on Twitter that “as of today” Eritrean forces would “hand over all posts” that were “vacated” by Ethiopian troops when the conflict began.
Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a border war beginning in 1998 that left tens of thousands dead and resulted in a two-decade stalemate. Mr. Abiy won his Nobel in large part for initiating a rapprochement with Mr. Afwerki after taking office in 2018, but Eritrea and the TPLF remained bitter enemies.