By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
(ADDIS ABABA) – South Sudanese rebels led by former vice-president, Riek Machar have welcomed Ethiopia’s plan to deploy troops in South Sudan, indicating they prefer to see them under the banner of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).
Ethiopia on Thursday announced it will be sending 600 additional peacekeeping troops to Somalia, South Sudan and to Abyei, a disputed region claimed by both Sudan and South Sudan.
According to the Ethiopian International Peace-keeping Training Centre, three helicopter gunships would be sent to South Sudan on top of the unspecified number of a regional peacekeeping force to be deployed next March in the youngest nation.
Machar told Sudan Tribune on Saturday that the rebel group has no objections to the deployment of Ethiopian troops to South Sudan as peacekeepers.
However Machar pointed that the deployment of the Ethiopian forces would only be accepted if the troops would be under the United Nations mandate.
Otherwise “it would be another issue,” he said.
Ethiopian military officials were not available for comments Saturday.
Since last year Machar rejected the IGAD decision to deploy troops in the new nation pointing it would regionalise the internal conflict.
“If IGAD member states who mediate the peace talks want to interfere militarily in the conflict, we may rethink our participation in the talks,” he said in a statement to Sudan Tribune in March 2014.
Instead the former vice president, who is calling for the withdrawal of Ugandan troops supporting president Kiir, welcomed IGAD’s contribution to the UN peacekeepers, saying UNMISS has the full mandate to protect civilians in crisis of such kind.
Currently there are over 12,000 Ethiopian peacekeepers serving in Somalia, South Sudan, Darfur (in western Sudan) and in the disputed Abyei region.