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100 Ethiopian peacekeepers in Abyei seek asylum in Sudan

Ethiopian peacekeepers in Abyei on 14 August 2016 (UNISFA photo)April 28, 2021 (KHARTOUM) - Some 100 Ethiopian peacekeepers from the restive Tigray region deployed in the Abyei area have refused to return to Ethiopia, citing fears for their life.

"The members of the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) have arrived in El Fasher, capital of North Darfur state," a reliable source told the Sudan Tribune on Wednesday.

The source who is not authorized to speak to the media further said that a senior UNISFA officer from the Tigray region suggested to influential government officials about two weeks ago to help him obtain political asylum.

Since November 2020, the Tigray region has been the theatre of fighting between the Ethiopian army and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Rights groups accuse Addis Ababa of grave human rights violations and war crimes.

Last February, 15 Ethiopian peacekeepers in South Sudan, from the Tigray region refused to return to Ethiopia, fearing for their life.

On the contrary to the UN Mission in South Sudan, the UNISFA is mainly formed from Ethiopian troops, at the request of the former Sudanese president.

The UN peacekeeping department in New York did not yet confirm the defection of the 100 Ethiopian peacekeepers.

Sudan, South Sudan discuss UNISFA

In a related development, Sudanese Foreign Minister Mariam Al-Mahdi and the visiting South Sudanese Deputy Foreign Minister Deng Dau discussed Wednesday the fate of the Ethiopian forces in the disputed Abyei border area.

On April 6, Khartoum requested the United Nations to replace the Ethiopian troops deployed in Abyei which is under Sudanese sovereignty saying they are no longer trusted in the strategic depth of the country while their government massing troops on the border of eastern Sudan.

The minister stressed the need to maintain the mission to provide security in the area, withdraw the Ethiopian troops and replace them with other forces," said the foreign ministry in a statement after the meeting.

As of 1 March 2021, the UNISFA military component stood at 3,419 personnel, comprising 3,016 men and 403 women (3,164 troops, 131 military observers and 124 staff officers), according to the latest report on the mission to the UN Security Council on 1 April 2021.