March 26 (UPI) — Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said Friday that Eritrean forces agreed to withdraw troops from the Ethiopian border after five months of conflict.
“The Ethiopian National Defense Force will take over guarding the border areas effective immediately,” he wrote in an official statement posted on Twitter.
The defense force has been fighting leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front since November for control of the region, resulting in widespread lawlessness and the exodus of more than 50,000 civilian refugees to Sudan. Abiy said the TPLF launched an attack on the ENDF on Nov. 4 and fired rockets into Bahir Dar and Gonder.
“Similarly, they fired rockets into Asmara, Eritrea, thereby provoking the Eritrean government to cross Ethiopian borders and prevent further attacks and maintain its national security,” he said.
Thousands have been killed since then, CNN reported, perpetuating extrajudicial killings, massacres, sexual violence and other human rights abuses.
Pramila Patten, the United Nations’ special representative of the secretary general on sexual violence in conflict, said in January her office received “serious” reports of large-scale sexual violence around Tigray’s capital, Mekelle.
“Eritrean troops fighting in Ethiopia’s Tigray state systematically killed hundreds of unarmed civilians in the northern city of Axum on 28-29 November 2020, opening fire in the streets and conducting house-to-house raids in a massacre that many amount to a crime against humanity,” Amnesty International reported in February.
On Tuesday, Abiy tweeted that his government would hold accountable any soldier responsible for rape or looting in Tigray.
Abiy was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for ending two decades of hostility with Eritrea, but critics say his peace deal with Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki allowed the two sides to wage war against the TPLF.
“Ethiopia and Eritrea will continue strengthening their bilateral relations and economic cooperation ambitions,” Abiy wrote in his Friday statement. “We will continue building on the spirit of trust and good neighborliness between our two countries as embarked upon in 2018. In particular, restoring trust-based people to people relations among our citizens in the Tigray region and fellow Eritreans across the border is essential.”