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JUBA - 24 Feb 2021

Ethiopian peacekeepers injured in 'scuffle' at Juba airport

File photo
File photo

Some UN peacekeepers were injured during a scuffle at Juba Airport when 15 Ethiopian peacekeepers refused to leave South Sudan on Monday, a UN official said.

"169 members of the Ethiopian contingent were due to rotate out of [the capital] Juba yesterday [Monday] and to be replaced by a fresh deployment as part of the normal UNMISS rotation of peacekeepers," Kirk L. Kroeker, a spokesman for the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), told Radio Tamazuj on Tuesday.

"While still to be verified, it is reported that approximately 15 members of the contingent chose not to board the flight at the Juba International Airport and a scuffle broke out resulting in some minor injuries," Kirk explained.

The UN official said these contingent members are now receiving support from the South Sudanese Ministry of Refugee Affairs and the UN refugee agency UNHCR.

Although details regarding the clashes remain unclear, it is speculated that the brawl erupted between Tigray regional allied forces TPLF and the Ethiopian army who form part of the Ethiopian contingent in UNMISS. 

Tigray has been the theatre of fighting since early November 2020, when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced military operations against the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), accusing them of attacking federal army camps.

He declared victory after pro-government troops took regional capital Mekele in late November, though the TPLF vowed to fight on and clashes have persisted in the region.

Zalalem Birhan, the Ethiopian Deputy Head of Mission in Juba, told Radio Tamazuj that he could not comment on the matter as the forces are under UNMISS mandate.

Santo Domic, the deputy spokesperson for the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces also declined to give details about the matter.

"I have just heard that there were some forces who were to return to Ethiopia from the Ethiopian forces working with UNMISS and from there, there was some misunderstanding or what happened I don't know exactly. Since it is something connected to the UN, we don't have any information about it," Domic said.

In conclusion, the UN Mission in South Sudan said, "Individuals in need of international protection, anywhere in the world, can choose to seek asylum through their own free will, under international law. This is a human right. Any process of asylum will be managed by the Government of South Sudan with support from UNHCR."