Tue, 15 Jun 2021

KHARTOUM, SUDAN - Around 120 former peacekeepers from Ethiopia, where several regions including northern Tigray are hard-hit by inter-ethnic conflict, have sought asylum in Sudan, the United Nations said Sunday.

The personnel were set to be repatriated as part of the phased withdrawal of the U.N. peacekeeping mission, UNAMID, from western Sudan's Darfur region after its mandate ended December 31.

"As of now, 120 former UNAMID peacekeepers who were due to be repatriated have sought international protection," a U.N. peacekeeping spokesperson told AFP via email.

The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, also confirmed the former peacekeepers have applied for asylum in Sudan.

They "will be taken to a location where they can be safely undertaken for their refugee status to be determined," it said without elaborating, for "protection purposes."

It was not immediately clear whether all the former peacekeepers seeking asylum originated from Ethiopia's Tigray region.

The Tigray conflict broke out last November between Ethiopia's federal forces and leaders of the region's ruling party, killing thousands.

The fighting sent about 60,000 refugees fleeing into neighboring Sudan, a nation struggling with economic woes and a rocky transition since the April 2019 ouster of strongman Omar al-Bashir.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, is also grappling with ethnic violence in other regions, including Amhara, Oromia and Benishangul-Gumuz.

UNAMID, deployed in Darfur since 2007, began in January to withdraw its armed and civilian personnel, which number about 8,000. The endeavor is to be completed within six months.

Darfur was the scene of a bitter conflict between ethnic African minority rebels, complaining of marginalization, against Bashir's Arab-dominated government in Khartoum.

The fighting killed some 300,000 people and displaced 2.5 million, according to the U.N.

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