ADDIS ABABA, 24 February 2021 – Ethiopian military officials are furious with soldiers who disobeyed orders last weekend to come back home from South Sudan, calling them “traitors”.

The Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) said the 15 Tigrayan members of the ENDF mission serving with the UN peacekeeping force in South Sudan are “traitors backed by the UNHCR and Tigrayans working in the UN”.

Ethiopian Troops in Tigray - Photo ABC

Ethiopian Troops in Tigray – Photo ABC

The 15 Tigrayan soldiers got into a fist fight at Juba International Airport, defeating an effort to embark them by force thanks to protection offered by South Sudanese forces at the airport and asylum laws in South Sudan.

Dujarric said the 15 Tigrayan members of the ENDF “are receiving support from the South Sudanese Ministry of Refugee Affairs.

UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters Wednesday that the change of guard among Ethiopian forces was “a normal rotation” that troops perofm all the time.

The soldiers-turn-asylum-seekers were part of a 169-member Ethiopian contingent that was due last February 22 to rotate out of Juba and be replaced by fresh contingents.

The Ethiopian Army on Wednesday accused the  United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees of backing the soldiers, a charge which the United Nations derides as unfounded.

Ethiopian Major General Mohammed Tessema on Twitter

Ethiopian Major General Mohammed Tessema on Twitter

UN Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric - Photo UNDOF

UN Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric – Photo UNDOF

Ethiopian Major General Mohammed Tessema said the 15 soldiers who disobeyed orders were backed by “ethnic Tigrayans working with the UNHCR and other radical diaspora Tigrayas who live in the region”.

The peacekeepers “remain safe in the care of South Sudanese and UNHCR authorities, and they are being assessed. But, their right to request asylum and protection is being taken extremely seriously and is being respected,” Dujarric reassured reporters.

Last year, three Ethiopian peacekeepers on a Mission in South Sudan from the Tigray ethnic group were withdrawn and deported to back to Ethiopia without due procedure.

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