UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
ETHIOPIA-ERITREA: Eritrea threatens to expel some members of UNMEE
ADDIS ABABA, 7 Dec 2005 (IRIN) - United Nations officials say Eritrea is expelling United States, European and Russian staff working for the UN’s peacekeeping mission which monitors the increasingly tense border between Eritrea and Ethiopia.
A letter received by the peacekeeping mission says the personnel concerned have been given 10 days to leave.
"The officer in charge of the mission received a letter yesterday from the Eritrean government," Musi Khulomi, deputy spokeswoman of the UN Mission to Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) said from Asmara on Wednesday.
"They are asking some of our members of staff to leave, but the specifics of that letter have yet to be worked out."
The letter - a copy of which has been seen by IRIN - says that UNMEE staff from the US, Canada, Europe and the Russian Federation should leave Eritrea. It gives no reason why.
"The decision looks to be directed at the recent Security Council resolution which had angered the Eritrean government,” said one Western diplomat in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital. "The countries affected are all those on the Security Council. The UN special envoy is Canadian."
In late November, the Security Council threatened sanctions against both Ethiopia and Eritrea. It also called on Eritrea to lift a helicopter ban it had imposed on peacekeepers.
The UN says the ban cut its monitoring capacity by more than half, with almost all night patrols curtailed and restrictions placed on vehicle and troop patrols.
Western diplomats expressed grave concerns over Eritrea’s threat of expulsions. "This is very worrying," said one diplomat in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa. "If UNMEE isn't on the border, it could lead to a renewed war."
A UN report in August said 96 military observers and civilians from Europe, the US, and the Russian Federation were working for UNMEE. The mission then had no staff from Canada.
The peacekeeping force stood at 3,292, the majority of whom are Jordanian, Indian, Bangladeshi and Kenyan.
Senior officials from the mission said larger-scale staff cuts would mean they could no longer monitor the border.
"If we are badly affected, then we will have to pull out," said one official. "This came out of the blue and was totally unexpected," she said.
Ethiopia criticised Eritrea’s decision. "The measures taken by the Eritrean government are not something that will help the peace process," Ethiopia’s Information Ministry said in a statement.
Tensions between Eritrea and Ethiopia have been mounting as both, according to the UN, have moved troops and military hardware closer to the border.
Diplomats estimate that around 300,000 troops from Ethiopia and Eritrea are entrenched along their 1,000 km frontier, where from 1998-2000, they waged a bloody war against each other.
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