UN Security Council condemns Eritrea for hindering peace mission


New York : The UN Security Council (UNSC) has condemned Eritrea for halting fuel supplies and endangering the lives of UN troops, likely causing a large-scale relocation of the UN mission to neighbouring Ethiopia.

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The UNSC said Eritrea “has created a situation in which a temporary relocation of personnel and equipment from Eritrea has been rendered inevitable,” according to a statement read out by its president, Ambassador Ricardo Alberto Arias of Panama, Friday.

The Eritrean government had earlier accused the UN of distorting “the reality” along the disputed border with Ethiopia, saying it cannot allow UN peacekeepers to leave without fulfilling their tasks.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon charged that the Eritrean government had endangered the lives and operations of UN peacekeepers by cutting off fuel supplies necessary for their work.

He said the Eritrean government had prevented the relocation of thousands of UN personnel to Ethiopia – a move that he ordered earlier this week – and seized UN peacekeepers’ equipment.

The Ethiopian government said his charges were “not tenable or acceptable”.

In a statement distributed at UN headquarters here, the foreign ministry said the UN secretary general had chosen to dwell on “peripheral matters” rather than trying to settle the dispute with Ethiopia over the border. Eritrea said Ethiopia continued to violate the joint border.

“The oft-repeated insinuation of looming danger to the lives of UNMEE troops in Eritrea is unfounded and perhaps designed to cover up the UN’s failure to address the fundamental problem” of the border,” the Eritrean statement said.

The UNSC held an unscheduled meeting to hear an explanation from Jean-Marie Guehenno, the chief of UN peacekeeping operations, who said after the meeting that he had appealed for protection of the UN troops in Eritrea.

“What’s at stake now is the welfare of the troops,” Guehenno said. “These troops need protection and their welfare must be secured.”

He said it would be up to the council to act to protect the peacekeepers it sent to the Horn of Africa.

Arias said that the 15-nation council holds Eritrea responsible for the safety and security of the mission and its personnel.

After Ban’s orders for the UN troops to move to Ethiopia earlier this week, only six vehicles of the advance units were allowed to cross the border while the rest were stopped by the Eritrean Defence Forces.

Ban Thursday said UN personnel were threatened and their equipment seized. The Eritrean commercial company that provided food rations to the UN has stopped its contractual obligations.

“The mission has only a few days of emergency ration left,” Ban said.

He called on the Eritrean government to “cease their obstruction of the relocation. The UN has reiterated that this relocation is temporary and that Eritrea must immediately meet its international obligations to cooperate with the mission.”

UNMEE has been monitoring a ceasefire between the two Horn of African nations, which fought a brief war over a portion of the border in the summer of 2000.

Ban said last week Eritrea cut off diesel supplies, which endangered the safety and security of the mission’s personnel. Eritrea also blocked the UN from purchasing fuel.

The dispute over fuel supplies was the latest in the worsening relationship between Eritrea and the UN. Last year, Eritrea grounded all flights by the peacekeepers to monitor the border area.

UNMEE has 1,460 military and civilian personnel based in Asmara and along the dispute border.

Eritrea said it was opposed to the so-called relocation of UNMEE because it would violate the 2000 ceasefire agreement that ended the brief border war in that year.

It called on the UNSC to “redress the situation and ensure the removal of Ethiopian occupation of Eritrean territories in breach of the Algiers peace agreement and the UN Charter”.

The UN says that peacekeepers would have 60 days of food supplies in Asmara if they were to be relocated there. At relocation sites at Barentu, Senafe and Assab, food supplies would last 11 to 14 days.

Fuel supplies amounted to 37,00 litres in Asmara, 46,000 litres in Barentu and 24,000 litres to 6,000 litres in Senafe and Assab, which the UN said were “enough to move”, but it was not more specific.