US hails Eritrean pullout in Ethiopia, a key stumbling block

WASHINGTON, The United States hailed the withdrawal from northern Ethiopia of Eritrean forces whose presence had been viewed as a key stumbling block in a landmark peace deal with rebels.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken commended the withdrawal of Eritrean troops in a telephone call with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, whose partnership with erstwhile rival Eritrea had soured his relationship with Washington.

Blinken called the pullout “significant progress” in the African Union-led November 2 agreement signed in the South African capital Pretoria that has largely ended the brutal two-year war.

“The Secretary welcomed this development, noting that it was key to securing a sustainable peace in northern Ethiopia, and urged access for international human rights monitors,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.

Witness accounts in recent days have spoken of troop movements out of the Tigray region by Eritrea, which has made no official statement.

Blinken renewed the commitment of the United States, which took part in the Pretoria talks, in assisting the peace process.

But he also voiced continued concerns about instability in Oromia, another region in the diverse country, where a separate conflict has accelerated even as calm returns to Tigray.

Under the Pretoria agreement, the rebel Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), under heavy pressure on the battlefield, agreed to disarmament and the re-establishment of authority of the federal government.

Ethiopian authorities in turn agreed to reopen access to the region, where millions are in dire need of assistance following two years of war.

But the Pretoria agreement made no provision for the withdrawal of Eritrean troops, accused by the United States and human rights groups of some of the worst abuses in the bloody conflict.

The United States has sought to use sanctions to put pressure on Eritrea, already one of the world’s most isolated nations.