The Ethiopia National Defense Forces (ENDF) called 15 Tigrayan members of the ENDF who were deployed with the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan and who refused to board a flight in Juba airport, “traitors backed by the UNHCR and Tigrayans working in the UN.” The ENDF also demanded an apology from the UNHCR.
On February 22, 15 members of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces who were part of United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) have refused to board a plane back home. “This morning, 169 members of the Ethiopian contingent were due to rotate out of Juba and (be) replaced by fresh contingents, a part of a normal rotation,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric, is quoted as saying by AFP .
Several reports indicate that the incident has turned violent at Juba airport with pictures circulating on social media showing bloodied Tigrayan members of the ENDF.
Jean- Pierre Lacroix, the UN’s Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations on his part said that he was concerned about these reports. “Our peacekeepers are deployed under the authority of the UN Security Council (UNSC) and they are protected by relevant international laws and norms.” he said, further emphasizing the importance of applying these protections to “all UN peacekeepers.”
According to Mr. Dujarric the 15 Tigrayan members of the ENDF “are receiving support from the South Sudanese Ministry of Refugee Affairs,” he said during his daily press briefing on Monday, and further added that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was “aware” of the situation and in contact with South Sudanese authorities.
Speaking at his daily briefing on Tuesday, Mr. Dujarric said 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.”
But on Tuesday, Major General Mohammed Tessema, the director of indoctrination at the ENDF said that the military officers were “ethnic Tigrayans who represent the TPLF”. He said that their refusal to return home was an attempt to entice violence at Juba airport and further accused them of trying to use the media to defame and betray their country; they created chaos at the airport “by shouting and rolling on the ground” to attract the attention of the international community and “defame the image of Ethiopia”. He also said they were backed by “ethnic Tigrayans working with the UNHCR and other radical diaspora Tigrayas who live in the region.”
Maj. Gen. Mohammed said that the UNHCR should admit that what it did was wrong and demanded an apology. “The sense of unity among the ENDF exposed the actions of the ‘destructive force’”, he said, adding “The army will continue to maintain peace and sovereignty of the country.”
In December last year, three Ethiopian Tigrayan peacekeepers UNMISS were withdrawn and deported to their country without due procedure, prompting UNMISS officials to voice concerns over the possible violation of human rights. “The Mission’s Human Rights Division is following up on their situation. As a Troop Contributing Country, Ethiopia is ultimately responsible for the conduct and movement of its troops,” a spokesperson at UNMISS said at the time. However, if personnel are discriminated against because of their ethnicity or any other reason, this could involve a human rights violation under international law.” AS