UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
ERITREA-ETHIOPIA: Staff expulsion may cripple operations, warns UNMEE
ADDIS ABABA, 8 Dec 2005 (IRIN) - The Eritrean government decision to expel 180 members of the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) may cripple peacekeeping operations in the Horn of Africa, a senior UN official said.
The expulsion, announced on Tuesday, will affect all aspects of the peacekeeping mission, including supplies, transport, finance and communications, Joel Adechi, deputy head of UNMEE told reporters on Thursday.
Staff from 18 of the 44 countries that make up the 3,300-strong peacekeeping force will be affected, Adechi said via video link from Asmara. They included staff from Europe, Canada, the United States and the Russian Federation.
All those expelled were given 10 days to leave Eritrea.
"Everyone was surprised," he added. "We were not expecting it." The mission, he added, had "no clue" why their staff were being ordered out.
Adechi said that until the UN completed an assessment of the US $189 million-a-year mission, it was impossible to determine how the peacekeeping force could continue to operate.
"The reason for the assessment we are conducting now is to find out how we will be able to carry out our tasks if those people have to leave," he said. "At the end of the assessment we will be able to see if we are able to function like this or what other measures need to be taken."
Flights between Asmara and Addis Ababa could also be stopped following the expulsion order because the staff who manage the air operations were also affected.
UNMEE force commander, Maj-Gen Rajender Singh, said the number of military observers who monitor the tense border between the two countries would be reduced by almost half. This would further hamper UNMEE's ability to warn of renewed conflict.
Diplomats say 380,000 Ethiopian and Eritrean troops are entrenched along the border.
Adechi said a letter from the UN had been sent to the Eritrean authorities calling on them to lift the expulsion order.
The largest contingent in UNMEE - more than 1,500 troops - is from India. Americans, Canadians and Europeans serve in the mission as military observers and key logistical personnel.
The expulsion order was the latest Eritrean move against peacekeepers
in the country. On 5 October, the government banned helicopter flights by UN peacekeepers in Eritrean airspace.
It later banned UN vehicles from patrolling at night on its side of the border zone, prompting the UN to vacate 18 of its 40 posts.
Eritrea has rejected UN appeals to lift the helicopter restrictions. Last month, the Security Council passed a resolution warning of possible sanctions unless Eritrea removed restrictions and the two sides reversed their troop build-up.
At a meeting on Wednesday, the Security Council called Eritrea's decision to expel some UNMEE staff "completely unacceptable". It said members would be consulting on how to respond.
Ethiopia's information ministry also criticised the expulsion order, saying it did not help the peace process.
Singh said the military situation remained "tense and potentiality volatile" and that troop movements by both sides had continued along the 1,000 km frontier.
Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after a 30-year guerrilla war, but the boundary between the two countries was never formally demarcated.
A border war broke out in 1998 and claimed tens of thousands of lives. In December 2000, an agreement was reached which provided for an independent commission to rule on the border dispute while the UN troops patrolled a 25 km buffer zone.
Ethiopia, however, has refused to accept the international ruling made in April 2002 on a new frontier between the countries.
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