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Eritrean flight ban forces UN to halt mine clearance activities

7 October 2005 A helicopter flight ban imposed by Eritrea against the United Nations peacekeeping operation (UNMEE) has forced the world body to suspend its lifesaving mine clearance activities in the country.

"Medical evacuation by helicopter is a mandatory safety requirement for deminers working in the Temporary Security Zone," mission spokeswoman Gail Bindley-Taylor-Sainté told the UN News Service.

"One of the things that we're concerned about is the need for a medical evacuation in case a deminer steps on a mine," she said.

The Security Council, Secretary-General Kofi Annan and senior UNMEE officials have all called on Eritrea to reverse its decision to ban helicopter flights, warning that the restrictions impede the mission's peace operations.

A 2004 survey of Eritrea indicated that 481 communities totalling 655,000 people are socially and economically affected by landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) in the country.

Eritrea's landmine/UXO contamination stems from its nearly three-decade long struggle for independence and the 1998-2000 border war with Ethiopia. Since that latter conflict ended, UNMEE has been deployed in the region to monitor the cessation of hostilities and to help ensure the observance of security commitments.


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