UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
ETHIOPIA-ERITREA: Annan urges restraint as troop movement reported on disputed border
ASMARA, 3 Nov 2005 (IRIN) - UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed concern on Wednesday about reported movements of military personnel on both the Ethiopian and Eritrean sides of the Temporary Security Zone (TSZ) along their common border.
In a statement issued by his spokesman, Annan said there had also been reports of "irregular activities inside the zone," and troop movements involving small and large military and paramilitary formations, armour as well as aerial defence assets.
"The Secretary-General strongly urges the parties to exercise maximum restraint and to put an immediate halt to any actions that may be misinterpreted by the other side or jeopardise the security arrangements which they agreed to in the Agreement on the Cessation of Hostilities of 18 June 2000," the statement said.
At a news conference in New York, the head of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Under-Secretary-General Jean-Marie Guéhenno, told reporters: "It is essential at this stage, at a very fragile moment, that neither Eritrea nor Ethiopia make any movement that could be misunderstood by the other side and could lead to a very dangerous situation. This is a time to really bring the tension down."
Earlier, the UN had called the situation on the Ethiopia-Eritrean border "tense".
In the Eritrean capital, Asmara, diplomats said the military movement could have resulted from Eritrea's frustration that the international community had not done more to force Ethiopian acceptance of the 2002 ruling on the boundary by an independent commission.
"We cannot say the situation is stable," a source familiar with the situation at the border said. "We have noticed actions on both sides. It is no more a secret."
Eritrean presidential adviser Yemane Ghebremeskel told Reuters news agency that talk of military movements towards the border was "irresponsible".
The two neighbours fought a war over the border from 1998 to 2000 in which an estimated 70,000 people from both countries died. The common border has still not been demarcated, despite an international agreement.
Last month, Eritrea banned UN helicopter flights in its airspace, and placed further restrictions on ground patrols. The UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea said it was now able to monitor only 40 percent of the border.
There are currently 3,300 UN peacekeepers patrolling the TSZ, at a cost of some US $186 million a year.
On 28 October, Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki wrote to UN Security Council President Mihnea Loan Motoc, listing previous agreements between Eritrea and Ethiopia since 2000 and accusing the UN of failing to do enough to maintain regional peace and security.
"[The UN's] unwillingness to enforce the rule of law and to ensure respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a UN member state has compromised its credibility as well as its legal and moral authority," he said in the letter.
The letter followed an earlier one to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in which Isaias said the UN was engaged in an "unacceptable" campaign to portray "a humanitarian crisis" in Eritrea.
"This campaign is apparently designed to cover up the failure of the United Nations to shoulder its legal responsibilities in the border conflict and to wrongly shift the blame to Eritrea," Isaias said.
The UN estimates that some 2.3 million people - almost two-thirds of Eritrea's 3.6 million population - require some level of food aid in 2005. However, Eritrean officials insist that they expect a bumper harvest this year, thanks to widespread and sufficient rainfall.
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