Foreign Policy

UN fears that Ethiopia will free ethnic Tigrayan officers from its peacekeeping missions

The Ethiopian government has rounded up ethnic Tigrayan security forces who are stationed in peace missions of the United Nations and Africa abroad and forced them to fly to the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, where, according to an internal UN, it is feared that they could be tortured or even executed Account.

The steps come as Ethiopia prepares a military offensive against the capital of the country’s Tigray region, Mekelle. Earlier this month, conflicts erupted between federal and Tigrayan armed forces in the ethnically divided nation that for decades had been ruled by the Tigrayan minority. The alarm within the UN suggests that Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, could expand the country’s week-long conflict beyond national borders. It has alerted human rights activists and UN officials who fear the UN blue helmets could be persecuted on their return to Ethiopia.

The target of Tigrayan military officers in foreign peacekeeping and military operations is growing fear that an Ethiopian government offensive against Tigrayan rebels in Ethiopia could lead to ethnic cleansing, with atrocities being reported on both sides. Human rights watchdog Amnesty International recently released a report describing the massacre of “dozens and probably hundreds” civilians in northern Ethiopia earlier this month by Tigrayan forces as a grim harbinger of coming violence. Meanwhile, refugees who fled the violence said they had been targeted for being Tigrayans.

Earlier this month in South Sudan, Ethiopian soldiers disarmed a senior Ethiopian Tigrayan officer, escorted him to the capital, Juba, and forced him on an Ethiopian Airlines flight to Addis Ababa on November 11, according to an internal report verified by Foreign Policy.

Ten days later, the Ethiopian contingent is said to have arrested three more Tigrayan officers at the UN base in Juba. According to an internal account, the officials were forced to take the Ethiopian Airlines flight from Juba to Addis Ababa. Her whereabouts are currently unknown. “

The UN Mission in South Sudan, or UNMISS, “has determined that three soldiers were returned to their country on Saturday without the mission’s knowledge,” a senior UN official told the mission. “Our human rights department is working to track your situation.”

“If there are incidents where employees are discriminated against because of their ethnicity, or their rights are violated, or if they have concerns about their situation, it could lead to a violation of human rights under international law,” the official added. “As a result, the UNMISS Human Rights Unit is currently working with the Ethiopian Peacekeeping Command in South Sudan and has requested access to any staff who for any reason may be forced to return home and be in need of protection.”

The crackdown has spread to other African countries where Ethiopian peacekeepers and troops are stationed, including Abyei, a disputed area claimed by Sudan and South Sudan, and Somalia, where thousands of Ethiopian government troops fight Islamist al -Shabab fighters helped. According to a diplomatic source, up to 40 Tigrayan officers and soldiers serving in the African Union mission in Somalia have also been recalled to Ethiopia.

At the UN mission to Ethiopia in New York, the senior military attaché overseeing peacekeeping, a Tigrayan, was released after just a few months, which sparked the purging of other Tigrayan officers from peacekeeping missions abroad, diplomatic sources said.

In Ethiopia, the conflict has intensified between the country’s Tigray minority, who make up just over 6 percent of the population but have played a dominant role in Ethiopia’s political life for decades, and their status under Meles Zenawi, an ethnic Tigrayan who served as prime minister , and was president of Ethiopia from 1991 until his death in August 2012 – and the country’s largest ethnic groups, including Amhara and Oromo, who make up more than 60 percent of the county’s population.

During Meles’ tenure, the Tigrayans were given key positions in government and the military. You continue to hold key leadership positions in overseas peace missions and raise questions about the ability of Ethiopian contingents to function after a purge. But the privileged position of the Tigrayans has been threatened since the election of Abiy, an ethnic Oromo, in 2018.

The latest crisis stems from a recent dispute between the federal government and the Tigrayan regional government over the decision to postpone national and regional elections amid the coronavirus pandemic. Tigray’s local leaders conducted an election that resulted in the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) winning all seats. The federal parliament declared the vote to be zero, and the federal troops are trying to militarily control the Tigray region.

The conflict in Ethiopia has killed hundreds – and perhaps thousands – people and sparked a new refugee crisis in one of the most historically politically unstable regions in the world. Around 30,000 refugees from Ethiopia have fled to neighboring Sudan in the past few weeks, raising concerns that the new influx of refugees could destabilize Sudan’s fragile transitional government.

Senior US officials called for an end to hostilities and an independent investigation into reports of civilian massacres.

“The ethnic dimension is one that everyone is very concerned about,” said Tibor Nagy, chief diplomat for the US State Department for Africa, in a briefing with reporters on November 19.

Nagy also condemned the TPLF-reported missile strikes on neighboring Eritrea earlier this month, calling it an attempt to “internationalize” the conflict that “makes”[s] the situation more dangerous. “

The conflict has also taken on an economic perspective. “This war is ultimately a struggle for control of the Ethiopian economy, its natural resources and the billions of dollars the country receives annually from international donors and lenders,” wrote Kassahun Melesse, assistant professor of applied economics at Oregon State University, recently in Foreign policy. “Access to these riches depends on who runs the federal government – which controlled the TPLF for nearly three decades before Abiy came to power in April 2018 after widespread protests against the TPLF-led government.”

“In other words, this is not a conflict over who can rule Tigray, a small region whose population is only 6 percent of the more than 110 million people in Ethiopia,” Melesse wrote. “There is a dispute over who can dominate the dominant heights of the country’s economy, a price that Tigray’s regional leaders once had and that is determined to recapture it at any cost.”

This fight takes place in UN peace missions.

Ethiopia is one of the two largest contributors to UN peace missions, with more than 6,700 uniformed workers, most of whom work in Darfur, Abyei and South Sudan. Tigrayans have played a key role in UN peacekeeping operations.

Earlier this month, Ethiopia recalled more than 3,000 soldiers from Somalia to step up military operations against the Tigrayans. The government disarmed between 200 and 300 Tigrayan soldiers stationed in Somalia, US and UN officials said.

“The peacekeeping forces are not being disarmed on the basis of their ethnicity, but rather because of the infiltration of TPLF elements into different units, which is part of an ongoing investigation,” an Ethiopian government task force told Reuters that earlier on the disarmament of TPLF soldiers in Somalia had reported.

“All officers and soldiers from Tigray were arrested and imprisoned on their arrival in Addis,” said the UN report, which was examined by foreign policy. “There are reports that some have been tortured and killed out of court.”

US officials fear that the massive withdrawal of troops will put Somalia, already one of the most fragile states in the world, in a precarious position and susceptible to new offensives by terrorist groups like al-Shabab.

In Abyei, Brig, the United Nations Deputy Commander in Tigrayan, Brig. General Negassi Tikue Lewte disappeared from the United Nations radar after traveling to Addis Ababa earlier this month. The brigadier general, who serves under a UN treaty, applied for leave on November 15. Shortly afterwards, Ethiopia sent the UN a diplomatic note asking it to find another officer to fill the position.

“He was apparently recalled to Ethiopia and his whereabouts seem to have been unknown ever since,” the internal UN report said.

The Purge has presented the United Nations with complex legal and political challenges that traditionally oppose foreign military contingents to manage troop rotations and handle disciplinary matters. The Ethiopian government has privately insisted that the repatriated Tigrayan troops and officers are simply on vacation. At least one of the officers, the Deputy Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces in Abyei, serves under a UN treaty and gives the United Nations greater responsibility for ensuring its protection.

UN peacekeeping spokesman Nick Birnback confirmed that the organization “is aware of the problem; We are very concerned and take this matter very seriously. “

“At the moment we are establishing all the relevant facts and are in contact with all relevant peace operations and governments in this regard,” added Birnback. “All troop-contributing countries have obligations under applicable international law in accordance with the relevant norms, standards and instruments.”

The Ethiopian missions in the United States did not respond to requests for comment. However, human rights activists expressed concern about the reports.

“If reports of discriminatory Ethiopian repatriation of ethnic Tigrayan peacekeepers are accurate, they are deeply worrying given credible reports of the profiling and arbitrary detention of ethnic Tigrayans in Ethiopia,” said Louis Charbonneau, UN director for Human Rights Watch.

“If the reports are confirmed, the United Nations should also consider suspending Ethiopia’s participation in United Nations peacekeeping operations,” added Charbonneau. “The United Nations must send a clear message to all governments that they will not ignore abuses against peacekeeping forces flying the United Nations flag.”

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