Eritrean Troops Leave Tigray as US Hails Withdrawal

Eritrean troops have left the ancient city of Axum in Tigray but remain in two other towns in the war-stricken Ethiopian region, local residents said Sunday, as the United States hailed a pullout seen as key to a landmark peace deal.

The Eritrean army had moved across the border into Tigray to support federal government forces against the region’s dissident authorities in a conflict that erupted in November 2020 and has since killed untold numbers of civilians and set off a desperate humanitarian crisis.

A peace deal between the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) signed in South Africa’s capital Pretoria in November last year silenced the guns in the north of Africa’s second most populous state.

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PM Abiy Ahmed

But Eritrea, whose troops have been accused by the United States and rights groups of some of the worst atrocities in the conflict — including the massacre of hundreds of civilians in Axum — was not a party to the agreement.

Witnesses told newsmen on Sunday that Eritrean forces were no longer in the holy city, a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its towering carved obelisks.

“I don’t see any Eritrean soldiers at the moment in the city,” one resident said. “They left… carrying dozens of artillery pieces, anti-aircraft guns and tanks.”

Large movements of troops and armour have also been witnessed in recent days in the Tigrayan towns of Adwa and Shire, which lie on the same east-west road as Axum.

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Three residents of Shire said they had seen large convoys of soldiers start leaving the town on Friday in buses and trucks, some carrying banners declaring “Game Over”.

But locals said some troops remained on Sunday.

“I saw Eritrean soldiers patrolling in the town together with members of the Ethiopian National Defence Force,” said one Shire resident.

“Eritrean forces are still present in substantial numbers, even though I have seen Eritrean troops stationed in other parts of the city leave in previous days,” added a local woman in Adwa.

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