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U.N. Demands Eritrea Rescind Ban on Western Nation Peacekeepers

07 December 2005

U.S. Ambassador Bolton says Eritrea's request "obviously unacceptable"

By Judy Aita
Washington File United Nations Correspondent

United Nations -- The Security Council December 7 condemned the Eritrean government's request that certain U.N. peacekeepers leave the country within 10 days. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan also demanded that Eritrea "immediately and unequivocally reverse its decision without preconditions."

The council acted with unusual speed to respond to Eritrea's December 6 order that U.N. troops and civilians from Western countries -- the United States, Canada and Europe, including Russia -- who are part of the U.N. Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) leave the country.

Diplomats said the order would affect about 90 of the 230 military observers, plus administrative and logistical staff based in Asmara, Eritrea.

U.S. Ambassador John Bolton called Eritrea's demand "obviously unacceptable."

Annan also condemned the request, saying that it "contravenes Eritrea's obligation under the U.N. Charter to respect the exclusively international character of United Nations staff.

"The United Nations cannot accede to Eritrea's request and demands that the government immediately and unequivocally rescind its decision without preconditions," the secretary-general said.

Under Secretary-General Jean Marie Guehenno said the United Nations informed Eritrea "very clearly" that the demands are unacceptable and the United Nations does not intend to pull out any of the personnel who have been mentioned.

"The key issue is of a political nature," Guehenno said.  The U.N. mission is "the international community as a whole standing together.  That principle has wide-ranging implications beyond the specific Ethiopian/Eritrea mission.

"We have no intention of jeopardizing a fundamental principal of the universality of a peacekeeping operation representing the whole of the international community," he said.

The mission already has been hampered by Eritrea's ban on helicopter flights in the border zone since October.

"We all know the very difficult situation that is there between Ethiopia and Eritrea, Guehenno said.  "This situation needs to be addressed, but the actions that have just been announced by the government of Eritrea are unacceptable and we do expect the government should reconsider them shortly."

In November, the Security Council demanded that Eritrea reverse the flight ban.  It threatened actions that could include sanctions if Eritrea did not comply, and if it did not reverse its military buildup.

Under a 2000 peace agreement, both countries agreed to accept an international commission's decision on the location of the disputed border as final and binding.  Nevertheless, Ethiopia rejected the decision that the town of Badme be awarded to Eritrea and the peace process has been stalled since.  In recent weeks, military maneuvers on both sides of the border have given rise to tensions and fear of renewed fighting.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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