- Eritrea has announced the expulsion of all European and American peacekeepers from the UN mission monitoring its border with Ethiopia. The around 150 peacekeepers are given ten days to leave the country. "Shock and concern" was today expressed by Western governments and the UN, while Ethiopia asked the Asmara government to come to its senses.
The UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) today received an official letter from the government of Eritrea, dated Tuesday. The letter opened for yet another diplomatic conflict between Eritrea and the UN. "Members of UNMEE with nationalities from the US, Canada and Europe, including the Russian Federation are requested to the leave the country within 10 days of this notice," the letter said.
Eritrea on earlier occasions has angered the UN, which is spending large funds to monitor the fragile peace at the Eritrean-Ethiopian border. When the Asmara government claimed the UN peacekeepers were causing insecurity, UNMEE threatened to pull out. Currently, Eritrea is threatened with sanctions by the UN Security Council for restricting the movement of UNMEE peacekeepers.
The letter - signed by Colonel Zecarias Ogbagaber, Eritrea's chief liaison with the UN mission in Asmara - may cause the UN Security Council to widen its threat of sanctions or even to dissolve UNMEE once and for all. Eritrea's expulsion of European and North American peacekeepers only affects an estimated 150 out of the Mission's 3,300 troops, but is seen as an illegitimate demand by a host nation.
First reactions to the Eritrean demands were of disbelief. The British Foreign Office Minister for Africa, Lord Triesman, today expressed his "shock and concern" at the Eritrean letter. "The government of Eritrea must reverse its decision immediately, and comply with" demands set by the UN Security Council, Mr Triesman said in a statement released by London today.
The action by the government of Eritrea towards UNMEE "only serves to undermine its ability to fulfil its mandate, and consequently increases tension in the area," the British Minister added. In view of the gravity of these developments, EU Foreign Ministers were now to discuss this issue at the General Affairs Council Meeting on 12 December, he informed.
UNMEE spokeswoman Musi Khulomi in Asmara today said the UN was not at all pleased by the Eritrean demand, but it had not come by total surprise. "It is evident that Eritrea has repeatedly been taking anti-peace measures that affected the free movement of UNMEE. It has to be noted that the measures taken recently by Eritrea cannot be seen as a new phenomena," she said in a statement.
The UN office in Asmara had already been in contact with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan regarding the Eritrean demand, Ms Khulomi added. Mr Annan had informed that he was to discuss the matter with his Deputy Secretary for peacekeeping operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, before raising the matter in the UN Security Council. Once at the Security Council, Eritrea can expect harsh reactions from the international community.
There are serious concerns that Eritrea may try to provoke another round in the bloody border war with its southern neighbour, Ethiopia, which ended in December 2000 after costing an estimated 100,000 lives. Limitations on the UN peacekeepers' ability to move and troop movements close to the border have caused suspicions. After the UN Security Council in November ordered Eritrea and Ethiopia to pull back their troops, Ethiopia said it would comply with the order while the Asmara government limited itself to protest the UN's sanction threats.
Given the new actions by the Eritrean government, authorities in Addis Ababa have reacted relatively calm, asking Asmara to calm down. "The measures taken by the Eritrean government are not something that will help the peace process," the Ethiopian Information Ministry said in a statement today.
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