Ethiopia says Eritrean troops have started withdrawing from Tigray

Thousands killed in the conflict, and hundreds of thousands forced from homes

FILE PHOTO: A burned tank stands near the town of Adwa, Tigray region, Ethiopia, March 18, 2021. REUTERS/Baz Ratner/File Photo
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The Ethiopian Foreign Ministry said Eritrean forces have started withdrawing from the Tigray region in northern Ethiopia after mounting reports blaming the Eritreans for human rights abuses.

"The Eritrean troops who had crossed the border when provoked by the TPLF have now started to evacuate and the Ethiopian National Defence Force has taken over guarding the national border," the  ministry said , referring to the Tigray People's Liberation Front.

The US, Germany, France and other G7 countries this week called for a swift and verifiable withdrawal of the Eritrean soldiers, followed by a political process acceptable to all Ethiopians.

For months, Eritrea and Ethiopia denied the presence of Eritrean troops despite dozens of eyewitness accounts.

Just last month, Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed acknowledged their presence.

Despite reports, Eritrea has still not said its soldiers are there.

Mr Abiy said on Sunday that his forces had conducted major operations over the last three days as it fights enemies on eight fronts in the west and north. He did not mention Tigray specifically.

"When the junta shifted to a guerrilla force, mingled with the farmers, and started to move from place to place. We are not able to eliminate it within three months," he said in a video posted on his Facebook page.

Ethiopia sent its troops to Tigray in November to fight against the Tigray People's Liberation Front, then the regional ruling party, which had attacked army bases in the region.

In late November, the TPLF withdrew and the Ethiopian government declared victory.

Electricity and phone connections to Tigray have been down for the past four days, making it difficult to verify any Eritrean withdrawal.

Thousands of people have been killed in the conflict, hundreds of thousands have been forced from their homes and there are shortages of food, water and medicine in the region.