Ethiopian soldiers defect in Israel

Dec. 2, 2005 at 2:53 PM
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TEL AVIV, Israel, Dec. 2 (UPI) -- Israel's Foreign Ministry reported that eight Ethiopian soldiers on a training course in Israel have applied for and received asylum from the Eritrean embassy in Tel Aviv.

The eight arrived in Israel some three months ago and went AWOL from their army base three days ago.

Eritrea's ambassador to Israel, Tesfamariam Tekeste, told Israel Radio that the soldiers arrived at his house on Tuesday and requested political asylum. The soldiers were reportedly of Eritrean descent and wanted to reunite with their families.

Tekeste consulted government officials in Asmara, the United Nations Refugee Agency and the Israeli Foreign Ministry. After consultations, Eritrea's government decided to accept the men because of their Eritrean ancestry.

On Wednesday Tekeste chartered a private aircraft and flew the soldiers to Eritrea.

Between 1998 and 2000, Eritrea and Ethiopia fought a war that cost an estimated 70,000 dead. Tensions remain high along the UN-monitored Temporary Security Zone separating the two nations.

Israel has close ties with Ethiopia, having brought over 90,000 Ethiopian Falasha Jews to Israel during 1984's Operation Moses and 1991's Operation Solomon.

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