Ethiopian peacekeepers seek asylum in Sudan after end of mission

Hundreds requested asylum in disputed Abyei region between Sudan and South Sudan

Ethiopian former peacekeepers, deployed to the Abyei region, disembark off a UN Embraer E190 aircraft as they arrive in Sudan’s Kassala airport on May 15 after seeking asylum. AFP
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About 40 former peacekeepers who come from Ethiopia's war-torn Tigray region have arrived in eastern Sudan, seeking asylum.

Last month, more than 500 UN peacekeepers deployed in the disputed Abyei region between Sudan and South Sudan asked Khartoum for asylum, citing fears for their safety if they were to return home.

On Sunday, hundreds of Ethiopian peacekeepers requested asylum after the end of their mission in Abyei, an official with Sudan's refugee commission confirmed.

"Arrivals of the asylum seekers will continue daily until they are all moved," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The ex-peacekeepers who arrived on Sunday were taken to the Um Gargour refugee camp in eastern Sudan, an AFP correspondent said.

The Abyei region has been contested since South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011.

The UN established a peacekeeping mission that year and has since deployed about 4,000 mainly Ethiopian peacekeepers to the region.

Last month, Ethiopia's defence ministry said the peacekeepers from Tigray refusing to return were victims of rebel "propaganda".

But Tigrayan peacekeepers interviewed by AFP all said they were worried about their safety, with one senior officer saying that other returnees had been arrested or killed in Ethiopia.

The war in northern Ethiopia broke out in November 2020, when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into Tigray in response to what he said were rebel attacks on army camps.

Last year, about 120 Tigrayan ex-peacekeepers who were posted in the Darfur region sought asylum in Sudan, UN figures show.

Sudan has received tens of thousands of Ethiopian refugees since the outbreak of the Tigray conflict.

Updated: May 17, 2022, 5:49 AM