NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Some Tigrayan troops have refused to return home after serving as peacekeepers in the disputed Abyei region on the border between Sudan and South Sudan because they fear for their safety, according to the Ethiopian military.
The Ethiopian military in a statement blamed the defection on what it said was misinformation spread by supporters of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, or TPLF, the party of Tigray’s fugitive leaders. That statement cited “false narratives spewed by the lobbyists” on behalf of the TPLF.
Ethiopian troops made up the majority of the 4,000-strong peacekeeping force in oil-rich Abyei, although Sudan was opposed to the presence of Ethiopians as peacekeepers.
“We defected because we want to raise awareness about the siege in the Tigray region,” Gebrie Kidane, a peacekeeper who is now seeking asylum in Sudan, told The Associated Press. “Besides, it is not safe for us to return home. They could arrest or even kill us if we return.”
The Ethiopian army didn’t cite the number of defecting troops, but Gebrie said they are more than 500.
This is the second defection incident involving Ethiopian peacekeeping troops in recent months.
At least 100 Ethiopian peacekeepers deployed to Sudan’s Darfur region defected and asked for asylum in May 2021. All of them were ethnic Tigrayans.
Tens of thousands of people are feared to have died in Ethiopia’s civil war that erupted in November 2020 after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent his troops into Tigray, alleging an attack on an army base there carried out by Tigrayan forces.
Ethnic Tigrayans have since been targeted in mass arrests across the country. Even some Tigrayan members of the Ethiopian army have been detained.
Rights groups have implicated both sides in war atrocities, although federal troops and their allies face most of the accusations.
Ethiopian authorities have outlawed the TPLF, making it difficult to hold peace talks.