UN talking tough about Eritrea's treatment of UN peacekeepers

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.

5 thoughts on “UN talking tough about Eritrea's treatment of UN peacekeepers”

  1. can i just hang these updates here like this

    addis ababa



    mekele happy camp
    over 100km from the border & over 200km from badme

    turtle bay
    closed for the weekend

  2. Mekelle sounds like a good choice — I wonder who made it?

    Eritrea says that the UN peacekeepers are not being starved, according to a report from UNHQ/NY last night:
    “Eritrea’s UN ambassador, Araya Desta, confirmed to The Associated Press that the government objected to the U.N. withdrawal from his country. He insisted the peacekeepers had adequate supplies of food, though not enough diesel fuel … Unable to move to Ethiopia, which is about a two days’ journey by road, about 1,000 of the 1,460 peacekeeping troops in the Eritrean capital, Asmara, were temporarily relocated to other bases within the country at Barentu, Senafe and Assab, UN officials told the AP. ‘There was a little bit of a fuel problem that was technical’, Eritrea’s Desta told the AP. ‘There is no food shortage in Eritrea. Enough food has been going to the troops, like rice, milk, sugar, flour, oil, juice, vegetables have been delivered’.
    As for the troops, he said, ‘they leave Eritrea once the Ethiopians have withdrawn from our sovereign territory. And therefore this temporary relocation is not acceptable … The Foreign Ministry accused the UN of ‘issuing a string of attributed and anonymous statements both distorting the reality’ about the U.N. peacekeeping mission. That’s not how council members saw it. ‘It’s very dire. It’s totally unacceptable that a Security Council-mandated peacekeeping mission is being obstructed by one of the parties’, said Russia’s Dolgov. ‘Eritrea has to reconsider – seriously reconsider its posture on this issue and to lift all the restrictions’.”

  3. mekelle may have chosen itself

    it appears to be an unmee operational hq
    & the only real hub anywhere near the frontier zone
    except for asmara

    barentu & senafe are closer to badme
    but still very far away too
    so likely also felicitous

    but of them all i think i would most rather be in the breeze on the beach at assab

    happily too
    the whole neighborhood appears to have gotten very quiet today

    it must be awfully interesting tho to watch everything trying to sort itself out

  4. There are 2,500 Eritreans who are seeking asylum in Israel — the largest number of a new wave of African immigration through the Sinai.

    Israel does not know what to do with all of them them, and has housed a number in its jails. Those who are not in jail depend totally on private and charitable donations for sustenance. Each and every one who has been quoted in the newspapers says he/she never imagined how difficult it would be here.

    Israel of course is adamant about refusing to allow Palestinian refugees to return to their homes, but it seems
    that the majority of the African asylum seekers may be allowed to relocate here, as soon as a policy is developed.

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