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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Thursday 13 October 2005

ETHIOPIA-ERITREA: Asmara imposes more restrictions on peacekeepers

ADDIS ABABA, 13 Oct 2005 (IRIN) - The Eritrean government has imposed more restrictions on the movement of United Nations peacekeepers in the country, days after grounding UN helicopter flights, a spokesperson said.

The spokesperson for the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE), Gail Bindley Taylor-Sainte, said the new restrictions limited night vehicle patrols.

Given the new restrictions, the UN could not rule out the possibility of a renewed military build-up along the tense Ethiopia-Eritrea border, she added.

"Because there are areas we cannot see, we cannot categorically rule out the fact that there might be a military build up," she told reporters from the Eritrean capital, Asmara.

Since the restrictions of flights, UN peacekeepers have had their "operational efficiency" and reconnaissance cut by more than half in the 1,000 km-long border region.

Sainte said the helicopter ban had forced the UN to withdraw from two of their estimated 40 outposts because they were accessible only by air. More troops could be withdrawn from other remote outposts where poor roads and the threat of landmines restrict access, she added.

One of the UN posts is at Fawlina, where unidentified gunmen men shot dead an Eritrean militiaman in April; the other is at Bada.

The ban on UN helicopters flying over the 25 km-wide demilitarised zone - known as the Temporary Security Zone (TSZ) - was imposed nine days ago.

Sainte said the new restrictions on peacekeepers' vehicles travelling after 6 p.m. [1500GMT] to ensure there were no Eritrean troops in the TSZ, had been imposed on 6 October.

"This is an issue we are monitoring very closely," she said, adding that following the flight ban, the 3,300-strong UN force was "dependent" on foot and vehicle patrols.

"We do not know the reasons for the ban or any indication of when the ban will be lifted," she added via video-link between Asmara and the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

Clearing the tens of thousands of landmines that were laid along the border had been stopped because there was no longer any way to evacuate injured workers, Sainte added.

Despite the restrictions they faced, however, she said UNMEE believed the current military situation was "stable".

On 1 October, a bus carrying 61 civilians, including women and children, hit a freshly laid anti-tank mine in the TSZ. Six critically injured people, including women aged 23 to 50, were evacuated for treatment by a UNMEE helicopter.

Although no official figures exist on the size of the two armies on the border, diplomats said an estimated 100,000 Ethiopian troops and 200,000 Eritrean soldiers were positioned on the frontier.

The two countries fought a bloody two-and-a-half-year war that started in May 1998, and is estimated to have cost the lives of around 70,000 people.

The region remains tense because the two nations have failed to agree on a final border demarcation, despite a legal ruling. In September, the top UN envoy for the region warned that a continued dispute over the border could lead to a resumption of war.

The UN Security Council has called for the ban on helicopter flights to be lifted immediately.

[ENDS]

This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but May not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2005



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