On UNMEE and Eritrea

A guest post by Aletheia Kallos/MD:

i see ban [UNSG BAN Ki-Moon] has cut out the indignation & bluster
& is reduced to issuing warnings of the dangers of an improbable war

& the uncertainty of the fate of unmee has been institutionalized
& extended to fill out the present 6 month mandate
ending in july



The Secretary-General’s latest special report on Ethiopia and Eritrea is out today as a document. In it, he says that after hearing out Security Council members, there are 4 options left to be considered …
First, there remains a chance to resume the Mission unchanged if Eritrea resumes fuel supplies and lift all restrictions on the Mission. Another option would be to terminate the mission, while a third option could leave a small observer presence in the border area to defuse tensions and report to the Council on the situation. A final option would include creating liaison offices in Asmara and Addis Ababa to maintain UN readiness to help the parties implement the ruling of the Boundary Commission, among other tasks.

These options are not ideal as they bear serious risks and would not resolve the dilemma created by Eritrean restrictions on the Mission. Terminating the Mission, for example, could result in a resumption of open hostilities.

As things stand today, the Secretary-General says that the only option likely to allow the UN to monitor the situation evenly seems to be the deployment of small observer missions either side of the disputed border. In conclusion, the Secretary-General says he will engage the parties on the four options and submit a further report to the Council before July 31 when the Mission’s mandate is due to expire. In the meantime, he advises the Council to consider sending a mission to the region to discuss issues related to the implementation of the Border Commission’s ruling… He also urges Eritrea and Ethiopia to end the stalemate and accept the assistance of the Security Council and his good offices and to respect the agreements they have signed.

for some choice historical details

a few other angles lately too if wanted

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.

UNMEE begins "temporary relocation" to Ethiopia

The UN announced that the main body of the UN Peacekeeping Mission to Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) has begin a “temporary relocation”, due to Eritrea’s blocade of diesel fuel supplies which poses a danger to the functioning and possibly to the lives of the peacekeepers. This “temporary relocation”, the UN says, is to “designated relocation sites on the Ethiopian side of the border”.

Is that clear?

In a rather sullen and sulky statement released Thursday, the UN rather undiplomatically pointed the finger at Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki.  The statement was issued in the name of UN SG BAN Ki-Moon by his Spokesperson (Michele Montas), and in it the UN also said that “Advance units of UNMEE started moving across the border, by road, on 11 February, while the main body started its relocation earlier today. So far, some of UNMEE’s convoys have been allowed to cross the border without any obstruction, while others have been stopped and later allowed to cross or asked to turn back. Yesterday, the Secretariat discussed with the Permanent Representative of Eritrea the arrangements for the relocation process. UNMEE is also engaging the Eritrean authorities in order to ensure that appropriate instructions are issued to the Eritrean troops in the TSZ [Temporary Security Zone] and officials at the crossing points, to facilitate the movement of our personnel and equipment. The Secretary-General stresses the important conflict prevention role UNMEE plays in promoting regional stability. However, without the fuel needed to conduct its operations, the Mission has been effectively immobilized and rendered unable to carry out its critical functions. The Secretary-General regrets that the relocation has become necessary, despite the letter he addressed to President Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea on 21 January seeking his urgent intervention to resolve the situation”.   The full UN press release can be found here.

One of the dangers in the present situation is that Eritrea is being set up as the bad guy. This will only heighten already high tensions in the region. Is that what the UN really wants to do?

"So the question is …

… [as Aletheia Kallos put it to me in an exchange of emails overnight] will the United Nations in the form of UNMEE (UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea) which was created to monitor and guarantee the Temporary Security Zone which was itself created to insure the separation of forces pending the demarcation also to be provided by the United Nations in the persona of the EEBC (Eritrea-Ethiopia Border Commission) Tribunal at the Hague even be able to acknowledge let alone enforce its own final and binding United Nations guaranteed demarcation — and if not, then exactly what does the United Nations think it is doing here?”

Well, I’m sure the UN, as usual, thinks it’s helping — it’s trying to keep things calm, cool things down, and hoping that soon the situation will get a lot better, mostly by luck … Other than that, the UN doesn’t usually have a clue. It is an impartial, objective, and neutral body, you see.  And anybody who has an agenda is usually obliged to dissimulate, or resort to subterfuge.

Actually, the UN, as ususal, is just making things up as it goes along, and hoping that everything will work out, because nobody would want to be embarassed by seeming over-the-top., would they? After all, we are all refined, well-brought and over-educated diplomats (without any excess of courage or orginality, and with mortgages to pay and children to put through school) who know exactly how to behave and what to do, arent’t we?

One question I have is: How would going ahead with an actual physical demarcation on the ground make Ethiopia any happier? The EEBC seems to have ruled in favor of Eritrea, and has said its decision on the boundary is final. Apparently because Eritrea refused to go along with a physical demarcation, the EEBC issued its list of geographical points that it says are the boundary.  But Ethiopia says this is just a “virtual” demarcation, and rejects it.  It does not seem to me any less clear or less binding than painting rocks medium-light blue (as in southern Lebanon) or whatever.

Another question I have is: why does the UN peacekeeping mission put Ethiopia ahead of Eritrea in its name? [UNMEE is, again, the UN Mission in (1)Ethiopia and (2)Eritrea]. By contrast, the arbitration proceedings [the EEBC – or Eritrea-Ethiopia Border Commission] put Eritrea first, apparently going according to correct and perhaps more impartial alphabetical order …?

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]


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


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’.”

Lack of diesel fuel may force UN pullout — from Eritrea

Another case in the world of diesel fuel deliberately withheld — this time, not in Gaza, but in Eritrea.

And it’s the Eritreans who are withholding it from the UN Peacekeeping mission in their country.

This is another good example, if more were needed (see South Lebanon-Israel now, and the Iraq-Kuwaiti boundary in the future) of why the UN should not be involved in border demarcation, especially when the UN is responding to what it judges are the positions of major powers in the UN Security Council.

In response, the UN is saying it may have to withdraw from Eritrea (of course, this is a move to exert pressure, and the UN would really much prefer to stay…)

The Associated Press is reporting from UNHQ/NY that “In an unusual move, the United Nations is being forced to prepare an imminent pullout from Eritrea and plans to relocate all its peacekeeping troops there across the border in Ethiopia, senior UN officials and diplomats told The Associated Press on Friday. Because of restrictions imposed by the Eritrean government, UN personnel are down to their last remaining emergency reserves of diesel fuel to power generators, vehicles and other equipment for the 7 1/2-year-old peacekeeping operation. At last count, that operation had about 1,500 troops and 200 military observers, along with several hundred civilians and dozens of volunteers based out of Asmara, Eritrea and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. ‘We’re basically going to have to move our troops out at some point, because we’re not getting any more fuel’, a UN diplomat said. ‘We would relocate to Ethiopia. It would not be the end of the mission, we would just not be present in Eritrea’. Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after a 30-year guerrilla war, but the border between the two was never formally drawn up. Tens of thousands were killed in a [another] border war that erupted in 1998. Most of the UN personnel have been used to patrol territory on the Eritrean side. ‘They are making plans to evacuate because they are down to their emergency reserves of fuel, and if they don’t get the fuel and they have no way of getting the fuel in, that would endangers the lives of troops there’, said a senior official within Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s office. All the officials and diplomats spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity, because they said Ban hadn’t yet announced his final decision … The secretary-general said in a recent report to the council that with generators used at camps and some field checkpoints for only two hours a day, peacekeeping patrols have been cut back and field staff have struggled to stay in touch. Ban had set Wednesday as a deadline for making a decision, since he said there were only a few days of diesel supplies left and the reserves were intended for emergency evacuations … Under a 2000 peace deal, both sides agreed to accept an international boundary commission’s ruling on the border dispute — and the UN formally began trying to keep the peace in July 2000. The commission proposed a border in 2002, but Ethiopia has refused to accept it because the proposal awarded the key town of Badme to Eritrea. Now, Eritrea appears to be trying to use the diesel supplies to force the UN to resolve its dispute with Ethiopia”. This AP report is posted here.

Qatar's Peacekeepers arrive in Lebanon – while Lebanese leave

A full contingent of 184 Qatari troops is now deployed with the UN Peacekeeping force in Lebanon, UNIFIL.

As the UNIFIL press release says, the Qatari forces will be “assisting the Lebanese Army in securing stability in southern Lebanon as part of Security Council resolution 1701”.

With the arrival of the Qataris, UNIFIL now has a force strenth of 12,000 soldiers and other personnel from 28 different countries (Belgium, China, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Republic of Korea, Luxemburg, Malaysia, Nepal, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Turkey).

Meanwhile, the Spanish contingent in UNIFIL has started a “major Spanish language training programme”, offering language lessons to some 300 students in and around the town of Marjayoun in southern Lebanon. “The programme is sponsored by the Spanish authorities and is being run under the auspices of the Cervantes Institute”, the UNIFIL press release notes.

This could be useful for those Lebanese who want to emigrate — and a new study suggests that there are many of them, according to a report published today and posted on Yahoo news: “The scale of the hemorrhage is hard to pin down, especially in a land with a long, fluid history of migration and return, but researcher Eugen Dabbous said a survey he had helped to run had confirmed many Lebanese are heading for the exits. ‘Sixty percent of those surveyed want to leave,’ he said.
The project, conducted by the Lebanese Emigration Research Center, questioned about 600 residents from two groups — students or recent graduates and middle-aged people. ‘The younger people want to leave because they don’t see a future in Lebanon, and the older group because they want to get their children out of harm’s way,’ Dabbous said. He said up to a million of Lebanon’s estimated four million citizens already live abroad, mingling with a far bigger Lebanese-origin diaspora born of two centuries of migration. Once mostly Christian, the outflow now affects Lebanon’s Shi’ite and Sunni Muslim communities just as much. Many who left during the 1975-90 civil war sank permanent roots abroad … So many Lebanese have left for the Gulf in recent months that wages there have declined, said Carole Contavelis, a recruitment consultant for Beirut’s Headhunter International. Of 19 people she interviewed for a general manager post in Beirut, 15 had left the country: ‘At the upper management level, it’s 70-80 percent who are out of Lebanon.’ Contavelis said the employment market had been ‘awful’ since last year’s war and was still getting worse, while political instability meant no one could plan their lives sensibly. ‘Now with the brain drain, we don’t have a middle class any more,’ she complained. ‘How can you build a country like that?’ Asked what would have to change to induce people to stay, she said: ‘Frankly, everything. No bribery. We need security, clean politicians. They are treating us like cows, but we don’t want to follow any more’…”

In other news reported by UNIFIL, “two Belgian de-miners were injured by shrapnel in a cluster bomb explosion during a mine-clearance operation in the vicinity of Kunin, near the town of Bint Jubayl”.

The U.S. has said last week that Israel may have violated their agreement about the use of U.S.-supplied cluster bombs, during last summer’s Israeli invasion of Lebanon.

One report suggests that the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) apparently used the older U.S.-made cluster bombs, which are not equipped with auto-destruct mechanisms, rather than the newer Israeli-produced cluster bombs which can self-destruct in a short period of time after being used. This auto-destruct mechanism is considered to be an important humanitarian advance, which helps avoid casualties when civilians return to their homes and fields after a conflict is over.

Earlier reports, during the summer, suggested that the IDF was emptying its warehouses of old stock during the attack on Lebanon.

UN and international de-mining teams have identified oer 800 zones in Lebanon where unexploded cluster bomb fragments continue to pose a grave hazard to life and limb.

The UNIFIL press release reports that “UNIFIL de-miners destroyed more than 4,000 explosive devices during the first four weeks of
January 2007. These included rockets, grenades, cluster bombs and anti-tank and anti-personnel mines.”

The UNIFIL website — not so easy to find — is at http://www.un.org/depts/dpko/missions/unifil/index.html

In other UN Peacekeeping news, the UN Security Council has given a rap on the knuckles to Ethiopia and Eritrea, by ordering a reduction of 500 troops in the UN peacekeeping mission there (UNMEE). Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993, after a long and hard-fought conflict. Tensions still remain, however, and sometimes flare up, between the two neighbors. The UN Security Council expressed disappointment in the stalled process to demarcate the boundary between the two feuding Horn of Africa neighbors.

Ethiopia does not accept an international boundary commission’s ruling, which awarded the key town of Badme to Eritrea. And Eritrea has moved troops and equipment into a buffer zone between the two countries.
The UN Peacekeeping mission will be reduced from 2300 to 1700 persons, but its mandate has been extended for a six-month period.

Ethiopian troops, meanwhile, have not withdrawn from Somalia, which they entered with U.S. training and backing in support of the UN Security-Council-backed Transitional Government. (Ethiopia has said that Eritrean forces were associated with the Islamic Courts grouping that had been credited with bringing a semblance of law and order to what is known as a “failed state” — but which has now been ousted.)