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Top UN officials sent to Ethiopia and Eritrea after latter's request to oust UN staff

8 December 2005 Following the UN’s rejection yesterday of Eritrea’s request for the pullout of personnel of specified nationalities, Secretary-General Kofi Annan has decided to send two top United Nations officials to the Horn of Africa to assess the situation on the ground and suggest next steps to improve it, a spokesman for the world body said today.

Mr. Annan has requested the head of the UN peacekeeping department, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, and the UN military advisor, General Randir Kumar Mehta, to leave as soon as practicable for Ethiopia and Eritrea, whose ongoing border dispute erupted into war between 1998 and 2000.

The UN has already conveyed a message to the Eritrean authorities that it cannot accept their request for a pullout, within 10 days, by staff of the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) who originate from the United States, Canada, Europe and Russia.

Both the Secretary-General and the Security Council have demanded that Eritrea rescind its request, which is inconsistent with the fundamental principle of the universality of the peacekeeping operation representing the whole of the international community.

Both the Council and the Secretary-General also demanded that Eritrea reverse its ban on air flights and lift all restrictions imposed on UNMEE’s operations as called for by the Council’s 23 November resolution on the matter.

That resolution threatened actions, possibly including sanctions, against Eritrea and Ethiopia if, in the case of Eritrea, it does not immediately rescind its flight ban, and against both parties if they do not reverse their military build up.

The military situation in the Temporary Security Zone and adjacent areas remains tense and potentially volatile, UNMEE reported today. Troop movements have been noticed on both sides of the border.

UNMEE also said that about 180 people would be affected by Eritrea’s request for the pullout of the nationalities specified, which would encompass 91 military observers, about 10 UN Volunteers and 70 international civilian staff members.

The UNMEE Force Commander noted that that out of a total of 44 troop contributing countries, 18 have been asked to go.

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