G-7 foreign ministers have called for a “swift, unconditional and verifiable” withdrawal of Eritrean troops from Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region.
The ministers of the world’s leading economies gathered Friday for an annual meeting in Berlin and issued a statement following a recent announcement from Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed that Eritrean forces would withdraw from Tigray soon.
G-7 ministers urged all parties to exercise “utmost restraint, ensure the protection of civilians and respect human rights and international law.”
The ministers of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States, and the high representative of the European Union called for “the end of violence and the establishment of a clear, inclusive political process that is acceptable to all Ethiopians, including those in Tigray.”
The process has to lead “to credible elections and a wider national reconciliation process,” the statement said.
The ministers also expressed deep concern about recent reports on “human rights violations and abuses, and violations of international humanitarian law in Tigray.”
Abiy ordered Ethiopian troops to move into Tigray in November to detain and disarm leaders of the once dominant regional party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, saying that the group was responsible for inciting attacks on federal army camps.
After meeting with Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki in the Eritrean capital of Asmara on March 26, Abiy yielded to mounting global pressure to address the crisis by announcing that Eritrea agreed to withdraw its troops from the Tigray region.
Abiy’s announcement came three days after acknowledging for the first time that Eritrean forces had entered the Tigray region and one day after the United Nations said more than 500 rape cases had been reported to five clinics in the area.
Eritrea’s ambassador to Japan tweeted on the same day of Abiy’s announcement 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.”
Both countries denied for several months that troops from Eritrea, a longtime enemy of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, had entered Tigray, contrary to accounts from diplomats, aid workers, residents, and even some Ethiopian officials.
The interim leader of the Tigray region, Mulu Nega, said in an interview with AFP earlier this week that Eritrean troops would not immediately withdraw, describing it as “a process.”
Eritrean troops appear to have increased their presence in some areas of the region, according to AFP, which cited residents in several of the region’s cities and towns.
In response to an AFP question earlier this week about the status of the troops’ withdrawal, Eritrean Information Minister Yemane Gebremeskel said in an email that Abiy’s statements were “unequivocal and unambiguous.”
The armed conflict in Tigray has taken thousands of people’s lives and forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes. The region of more than 5 million people is facing shortages of food, water and medicine.