Aletheia Kallos has alerted me to the latest development in “Eritrea’s actually still ongoing farewell bash for UNMEE” (the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea) — Eritrea seems to be blocking the UN peacekeepers’ movement, and cutting off their food catering. The UN SG had his spokespeople issue a statement at today’s regular noon briefing for journalists, and he convened a meeting with troop-contributing countries.
UN spokesperson Marie Okabe told journalists that the UN was “exploring contingency options to supply the mission with the food and fuel necessary to continue with the relocation of mission personnel and assets” — whatever that means. An airlift, or an airdrop? Or what?
In short order, the UN Security Council also convened an emergency meeting on the situation. The Security Council then adopted a statement strongly condemning Eritrea’s actions, and expressing deep concern — and it demanded that the government of Eritrea resume full cooperation with UNMEE.
Agence France Presse reported that “[UNSG] Ban ‘will speak to the Eritreans at the highest level’, said DPKO spokesman Nick Birnback. ‘We are doing everything that we can on our side, but without the consent of the host government it becomes very difficult to envisage a scenario in which our mandate can be implemented’. In a communique, the Eritrean Foreign Ministry said it could not discuss or acquiesce in the ‘temporary relocation’ of UNMEE or some other new ‘arrangement’ that is at variance with the provisions of a peace agreement. Under the 2000 Algiers peace deal which ended their two-year border war, Eritrea and Ethiopia pledged to accept as ‘final and binding’ a verdict by a UN-backed boundary commission on their dispute … In its final ruling, it granted Eritrea the border town of Badme, which Ethiopia has refused to accept, saying it split families between the countries … Asmara says the Security Council has failed 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’. To show its displeasure, it has placed a number of restrictions on UNMEE, including a ban on UN helicopter flights in Eritrea’s airspace and its expulsion of UNMEE’s North American and European staff.” This AFP report is published here.
Here are the “highlights” (or notes) on the statement made by spokesperson Marie Okabe at today’s regular noon briefing:
* The Secretary-General is deeply concerned by the situation with the relocation of personnel and equipment of the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE), from Eritrea to designated relocation sites on the Ethiopian side.
* Since the beginning of the movement of UNMEE’s advance units on 11 February, not more than six vehicles have been allowed by the Eritrean authorities to cross into Ethiopia.
* A number of UNMEE vehicles were stopped by the Eritrean Defense Forces and prevented from crossing the border. In one such case, on 14 February, UNMEE personnel were threatened and the equipment seized.
* In a disturbing development, the Eritrean commercial company that provides rations to UNMEE has informed the Mission today that it will no longer be able to fulfill its contractual obligations. The Mission has only a few days of emergency rations left.
* The Secretary-General is in close contact with the Security Council and the Troop Contributing Countries, and the Eritrean authorities are being contacted at the highest level to seek an immediate resolution of this unacceptable situation.
* The Secretary-General calls on the Eritrean authorities to cease their obstruction of the relocation of UNMEE, with their equipment.
* The UN reiterates that this relocation is temporary and that Eritrea must immediately meet its international obligations to cooperate with the mission.
* The Spokeswoman later announced that the Security Council was holding consultations at 3 p.m. today in connection with Eritrea/Ethiopia.
* Asked for more details about developments in UNMEE, the Deputy Spokesperson added that the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations and Department of Field Support had briefed troop-contributing countries (TCCs) on 14 February on the relocation process. They insisted that Eritrea has an obligation to ensure that the peacekeepers relocate in dignity, safety and in an orderly manner, and also has to supply the fuel required for such relocation.
* The UN is conveying this demand to the Government of Eritrea and are exploring contingency options to supply the mission with the food and fuel necessary to continue with the relocation of mission personnel and assets, Okabe added.
* In response to a question, the Spokeswoman said the Secretariat had been given a mandate by the Security Council, which had in fact recently been extended by six months. In the meantime, UN peacekeepers in Eritrea are not able to carry out their mandated tasks, she said.
* In response to a further question, Okabe said the majority of UNMEE troops were stationed in Eritrea.
These “highlights” from today’s daily noon briefing at UNHQ/NY are posted here.