- The Eritrean government has expelled five UN staff members "who were involved in spying activities" in its latest attack against the UN peacekeeping mission. Eritrea earlier has accused the UN's mission, which oversees the fragile peace with Ethiopia, of "destabilising" the country, defending Ethiopian interests and smuggling people and goods.
According to the Eritrean Ministry of Information, five UN staff members today were ordered to leave Eritrea within 24 hours. The five men - nationals of the UK, New Zealand, South Africa, Liberia and Trinidad and Tobago - had allegedly been "involved in spying activities out of their mission."
The Ministry, naming the five individuals, claims they had been caught by Eritrean state agents while "deploying spy networks, recruiting mercenary agents and providing radio communication facilities."
This terminology by the increasingly isolationalist and dictatorial government is normally used to describe regime opponents, in a country where no opposition is allowed. The Ministry statement may indicate that the UN peacekeepers had been in formal or informal contact with regime critics, often referred to as "spies" or "mercenaries".
According to the Asmara Ministry of Information, the UN peacekeepers stationed in the country on several earlier occasions had been involved in activities alleged to be illegal. Only last week, Eritrean security forces claim to have apprehended members of the UN peacekeeping mission "who tried to smuggle persons and property illegally from Eritrea by hiding them in vehicles."
While the Eritrean government claims that UN staff on several occasions have been involved in "smuggling, illegal trade activities as well as spying," the UN sees these accusations as further Eritrean attempts to sabotage the peacekeeping mission.
The UN earlier strongly has protested the expulsion of European and North American peacekeepers, the arrest of Eritrean UN staff member and the severe limitations to the peacekeepers' mobility in the country. So far, the UN has however not commented on today's expulsion of its staff members.
The UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) has been controlling the border between the two countries since a December 2000 peace agreement put an end to the costly two-year border war between them.
A final peace is however not in sight as Ethiopia contests a 2002 UN border ruling, which hands key areas along the border over to Eritrea. Neither the government of Eritrea nor of Ethiopia currently seem interested in finding a permanent solution, both being comfortable with a uniting, foreign enemy veiling domestic problems.
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