Eritrean withdrawals from two major cities in Tigray follow a ceasefire signed by regional rebels and the government of Ethiopia.

Eritrean soldiers, who fought in support of the federal government of Ethiopia two-year civil war in the northern Tigray region, are withdrawing from two major cities and heading towards the border, witnesses and an Ethiopian official told Reuters news agency.

Eritrean Information Minister Yemane Gebremeskel told Reuters on Friday that he could neither confirm nor deny the information. Another Ethiopian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that Eritrean troops were withdrawing from Axum and Shire.

Getachew Reda, a spokesman for the Tigrayan armed forces, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The withdrawals from Shire and Axum follow one November 2 ceasefire signed by the Government of Ethiopia and the Tigray Regional Forces requiring the removal of foreign troops from Tigray.

However, Eritrea was not a party to the agreement and the continued presence of its troops in major Tigrayan population centers has raised questions about the sustainability of the agreement.

It was not immediately clear whether the Eritrean troops would abandon Tigray completely or simply withdraw from certain towns.

Three aid workers in Axum and Shire said they saw several trucks and dozens of cars full of Eritrean soldiers leaving for the border town of Sheraro on Thursday. One of the aid workers said the soldiers waved goodbye.

One of the aid workers said all Eritrean soldiers had left Shire, but another said a significant number had remained behind. It was not immediately clear what caused the discrepancy.

Tigray residents have accused Eritrean soldiers of continuing to loot, arrest and kill civilians after the ceasefire.

The Eritrean authorities have not immediately responded to the allegations.

During the war, Eritrean troops were accused by residents and human rights organizations of several instances of abuse, including the killing of hundreds of citizens in Axum over a 24-hour period in November 2020. Eritrea rejected the allegations.

Eritrea considers the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which leads the Tigrayan armed forces, as its enemy. Eritrea and Ethiopia fought a border war between 1998 and 2000 when the TPLF dominated the federal government.

After a slow start, the government of Ethiopia and Tigrayan authorities have taken several steps over the past week to implement the peace agreement.

On Thursday, representatives from both sides met in Mekelle, the capital of Tigray, to set up a monitoring team to assess the enforcement of the agreement.

The federal police also raided Mekelle in accordance with the ceasefire, the state-owned Ethiopian Airlines resumed flights and Ethio Telecom reconnected its services to the capital and 27 other cities.

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