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.

Badme – a problem between Eritrea and Ethiopia

Upon request, Aletheia Kallos has very kindly gone to the trouble of supplying the following detailed information on the Badme dilemma:

“The Badme situation on another hand is not so easy to oversimplify. As I haven’t yet seen the recent EEBC (Eritrea-Ethiopia Border Commission) virtual demarcation maps I am still reduced to cribbing from older and coarser stuff like this (here) or questionable stuff like this (here).

But it is also possible to plot the pertinent EEBC turnpoint positions a good deal more accurately than that or than is presently shown at Google Earth, and after running an empirical boundary line segment there in between the pertinent endpoints one can scrutinize the satpic (satellite picture) for indications of exactly where on the Eritrean side of the boundary the main population center of Badme actually falls — and my attachments to the present message endeavor to do just this.

The first attachment pinpoints Badme in relation to the relevant EEBC demarcation turnpoints which are shown there by the red dots spanned by the white boundary line as extracted from this EEBC text here, and the second attachment then zeroes in on the immediate Badme area.

[Click on maps for larger image]

eret-at-badme.JPG

The yellow line in both attachments is the typically crude Google Earth rendering of the boundary.

badme-detail-1.JPG

But the bottom line is downtown Badme which is presently held by Ethiopian forces appears to fall nearly 2 km within Eritrean territory and the imploding tsz [Temporary Security Zone] — and the topological conundrum of this is once the de jure tsz does disappear on the Eritrean side and reemerges de facto behind Ethiopian lines and behind the Ethiopian border Badme will become de facto either an exclave or a salient of Ethiopia into de jure Eritrea and so what will remain to separate the opposing forces in this anomalous yet important if not to say pivotal Badme arena?

But again perhaps I am oversimplifying or overcomplicating …

Reference map if needed here, where the Badme area is near the northernmost point on the boundary”.

Reproduced with many thanks to Aletheia Kallos.

The latest report of the UN Secretary-General to the UN Security Council, S/2008/40, dated 23 January 2008, states that “The military situation in the Temporary Security Zone and adjacent areas remained tense during the period leading up to the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission deadline of 30 November for demarcation of the boundary. Both Eritrea and Ethiopia continued to reinforce their military deployments in the border area … I regret to report that the parties have not complied with the demands of the Security Council contained in its resolution 1767 (2007) of 30 July 2007, as specified in paragraph 43 below. In a letter dated 19 November 2007, addressed to the President of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission, the President of Eritrea accepted the boundary demarcation by map coordinates, ‘as an important step torward towards the demarcation on the ground’, and urged the Commission to persist until the erection of pillars, ‘to bring the process to its natural conclusion’. Since then, President Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea has repeatedly stated that the border issue has been ‘legally resolved’, and that Eritrea considered the border demarcated. He reaffirmed this position in an interview on the New Year’s Day, which was broadcast on Eritrean television on 5 January.

“Furthermore, in her letter dated 29 November, addressed to the President of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission, the Eritrean Legal Adviser to the President acknowledged as ‘both final and valid’ the demarcation coordinates that the Commission has specified, while stressing that Eritrea also considered these coordinates ‘as binding as other Commission’s decisions’. For its part, Ethiopia has maintained its position that demarcation by map coordinates has no legal force or effect. In a letter addressed to the President of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission on 27 November 2007, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia stated that the ‘demarcation coordinates are invalid because they are not the product of a demarcation process recognized by international law’.”

The UNSG told the UN Security Council that the EEBC “reported that the parties have made no progress towards the implementation of the delimitation decision announced by the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission on 13 April 2002. Consequently, on 30 November, the Commission sent the maps signed by the Commission members, indicating the demarcated boundary points (coordinates), to the Permanent Missions of Ethiopia and Eritrea to the United Nations”.

The UNSG also informed the UN Security Council that he proposed an actual demarcation — on the ground — of the border area, but that Eritrea is refusing. The UNSG said the President of Eritrea stated “that the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission has terminated its functions by completing its work through ‘virtual demarcation’ and that ‘the boundary is demarcated’. The letter also states that ‘UNMEE [United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea] has now been left, after five and a half years, with no option other than ‘maintaining occupation’, and urges the Security Council to compel the evacuation of the ‘army and institutions of the Ethiopian regime occupying our sovereign territories to prevent other unnecessary developments’.” But, the UNSG told the Security Council, “the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia contended that the Commission’s virtual demarcation ‘has no validity in international law’.”