Harsh UN words for Ethiopia, Eritrea

In response to warnings of a dangerous crisis brewing between Ethiopia and Eritrea, a draft United Nations Security Council resolution demands that they immediately agree to an international commission’s decision ruling on their border, which Ethiopia has rejected.

It also demands that Eritrea immediately lift restrictions on helicopter flights and the movement of UN peacekeepers in a border buffer zone and declares the council’s “readiness to consider further action” if Eritrea refuses to comply.

Greece presented the draft resolution at a closed council meeting after UN Secretary General Kofi Annan warned that peacekeepers faced an “alarming situation” in the border area as a result of the Eritrean restrictions and urged council members to take action to end the “dangerous crisis” and prevent another war.

Japan’s UN ambassador, Kenzo Oshima, who chairs the council’s working group on peacekeeping operations, said there was a suggestion in the council that he should travel to Eritrea but no decision has been made yet.

“I think there was near consensus that the council needed to take some quick, prompt action,” he said.

Flights, patrols banned

Eritrea informed the UN that it was banning helicopter flights by UN peacekeepers in its airspace in a buffer zone with Ethiopia starting on October 5. It also banned UN vehicles from patrolling at night on its side of the 1 000km temporary security zone dividing the two countries.

The zone was established after a December 2000 peace agreement that ended a two-and-a-half-year border war between the Horn of Africa neighbours. The deal provided for an independent commission to rule on the position of the disputed border, but Ethiopia refused to accept the panel’s April 2002 decision, which awarded the town of Badme to Eritrea.

The draft resolution stresses that that peace cannot be achieved unless the border is fully demarcated and calls on both parties “to refrain from any threat of use of force against each other”.

It calls on both countries “to implement completely and without further delay the decision of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission and to create the necessary conditions for demarcation to proceed expeditiously”.

Under the proposal, both sides would meet with the commission to agree on the immediate resumption of the demarcation work.

Greece’s UN ambassador, Adamantios Vassilakis, said council members would discuss the draft in detail and he didn’t expect any action this week.

Situation has ‘seriously deteriorated’

Annan said in a letter to the council, circulated on Tuesday, that the situation for the 3 300 UN peacekeepers and military observers “has seriously deteriorated” and the Eritrean restrictions have made it impossible for the UN to operate in 18 isolated posts out of a total of 40 locations.

The draft resolution “demands that the government of Eritrea reverse immediately and without precondition” the ban on UN helicopter flights and other travel restrictions.

It also appeals to troop-contributing countries “to persevere in maintaining their presence” in the buffer zone “despite the immense difficulties which they are facing”.

Annan sent a letter last week urging Eritrea to lift its ban on peacekeeping flights, saying the move jeopardised troop safety along the buffer zone.

In a blunt response on Thursday, Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki rejected Annan’s appeal, telling him that he lacks the “humanitarian high ground on matters of law, the rule of law and humanitarian issues”.

Afwerki said Annan and the UN have forfeited their “relevance” on matters related to the peace process.

US ambassador John Bolton said “the central issue” is compliance with the boundary commission ruling.

“I think what we’ve said, and what the parties themselves agreed to, is they would accede to the findings of the boundary commission—and that means what it says,” Bolton said.
“This is what they agreed to in 2000 ... and now three years later the findings of the boundary commission are not being implemented, and that’s just not acceptable.”—Sapa-AP

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