Peacekeepers formerly posted to Darfur and hailing from Ethiopia’s conflict-hit Tigray region are requesting asylum in Sudan for fear of “torture” and “ethnic cleansing” back home, they have told AFP.
The personnel were due to be repatriated in line with a withdrawal from Sudan of the joint United Nations-African Union mission in Darfur(UNAMID), after its mandate ended on December 31.
But the UN said earlier this month around 120 former peacekeepers had sought “international protection.”
AFP spoke to several of these Tigrayan peacekeepers at Um Gargour camp in eastern Sudan, where they have found interim sanctuary.
Halka Haqous, 47, a commander of the group that requested asylum, said he did not want to be repatriated “because of discrimination and ethnic cleansing in Tigray” region in northern Ethiopia.
He blamed Ethiopia’s government for the conflict, which erupted in early November, when the country’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops to detain and disarm leaders of the regional ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
Abiy, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, said the move came in response to TPLF attacks on federal army camps.
While he vowed the conflict would be brief, fighting continues and world leaders are warning of humanitarian catastrophe.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced from their homes and over 60,000 fled into Sudan.
Rights groups have repeatedly alleged that Eritrean troops, operating in support of federal Ethiopian forces in Tigray, have perpetrated atrocities against civilians.
“All of the families from Tigray have been displaced,” said 40-year-old officer Arqawi Mahari.
“I don’t know where my father and mother are. A lot of rapes and other horrible crimes have been committed.”
“We are ethnic Tigrayans, that’s why they (Ethiopian troops) were oppressing us and telling us we were working for the TPLF,” Ferwini, 29, a peacekeeper who provided her first name only, told AFP.
“If I go back to Ethiopia they would kill me or torture me - that’s why I’ve asked for asylum in Sudan,” she added.
An Ethiopian military spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.
Abiy’s government has said it is committed to investigating allegations of atrocities in Tigray, and has denied claims it is discriminating against Tigrayans.
Sudan meanwhile is locked in disputes with Addis Ababa over a contentious border zone, and Ethiopia’s construction of a massive hydro-electric project on the Blue Nile.
Downstream Sudan and Egypt see the dam as a major threat to their water supply.
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