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Tigrayans in United Nations peacekeeping force fear return to Ethiopia

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) – The United Nations (UN) is failing to fully support hundreds of ethnic Tigrayan members of a UN peacekeeping force as they fear returning home to Ethiopia and facing potential detention amid the country’s Tigray conflict, peacekeepers told The Associated Press (AP).

Their accounts highlight the concerns among Tigrayans after thousands of them, both military personnel and civilians, were detained throughout Ethiopia after the country’s war erupted in November 2020 between Ethiopian forces and fighters from the Tigray region. An unknown number have been released in recent weeks after much of the fighting eased, and Ethiopia this week lifted a state of emergency.

Two Tigrayan peacekeepers told the AP that they and hundreds of colleagues have ended their UN peacekeeping stint in Abyei, a region contested by Sudan and South Sudan, and are now expected to return to Ethiopia.

They asserted that their peacekeeping camp is under Ethiopian control and UN personnel are not allowed access.

Sergant Angesom Gebru, who slipped away from the camp with a few dozen others, said the remaining Tigrayan peacekeepers can only walk away safely once they are taken to a local airport for flights back to Ethiopia, which began this week. But as Tigrayans refuse to board them, he said, there are fears that those still in the peacekeeping camp could
face retaliation.

Dozens of the Tigrayan peacekeepers held a protest against the war in Ethiopia this week.
A photo taken and shared by Angesom shows the men and women, with their blue UN passes around their necks, standing with a handwritten sign reading “Stop genocide
in Tigray.”

The Tigray region of some six million people has been largely blockaded by Ethiopia’s government since June of last year as authorities claim that humanitarian aid or other supplies could be used in support of the Tigray forces.

“Fuel, cash and supplies available for humanitarian partners in Tigray are at near-exhaustion level,” the UN humanitarian agency said last week.

A spokesman for Ethiopia’s military and government did not respond to questions about the Tigrayan peacekeepers with the UN mission.

Ethiopia’s government has sought to portray a return to normal at home after the Tigray forces withdrew into their region in December under a drone-supported military offensive.