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UN peacekeeping mission voices hope Eritrea will release 11 arrested local staff

12 May 2006 The peacekeeping United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) is awaiting a response from the Eritrean authorities to its letters asking why they had arrested 11 local staff members over the past week, an UNMEE spokeswoman said, voicing hope that those detained will be released.

“We at UNMEE have written letters of protest, as we always do when such arrests take place. We have as yet not received any responses from the Eritrean Authorities regarding these arrests,” deputy information chief Musi Khumalo told reporters in the two capitals, Asmara and Addis Ababa, by videoconference from Addis yesterday.

“It is a matter of great concern to us when some of our colleagues are detained in this manner. We have also taken the initiative to remind the Eritrean authorities of the immunities and privileges of UNMEE staff working in the country and we are hopeful that we will get some response from the authorities in the form of the release of the detained members of staff of UNMEE to enable them to come back to work and to continue to help the Mission fulfil its mandate obligations.”

According to a September 2000 Security Council resolution, UNMEE’s mandate includes monitoring the cessation of hostilities between the two countries, helping to ensure the observance of the security commitments agreed by the parties, and keeping track of any redeployment of local forces.

One of the 11 was among 27 local staff arrested in February but later released, said the spokeswoman. She added that the latest arrests have adversely affected the morale of the remaining national and international staff.

A binding decision of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission in 2002 awarded Badme – the town that triggered a bitter, two-year border war ending in 2000 – to Eritrea, which has become increasingly critical of the UN for not forcing Ethiopia to accept that border demarcation.

UNMEE Chief-of-Staff Colonel Mohammed Iqbal said the military situation continued to be tense because UNMEE’s monitoring function was being hampered by both sides.

“You must know that due to different restrictions, the monitoring capability of UNMEE has gone down and because it has gone down we are not sure about those areas where we do not have effective monitoring,” he said. “The restriction of helicopter flights has also led to the blindness from the air. So these are the factors that have led the situation to be tense. When you cannot properly monitor 100 per cent, the situation remains tense.”

Last month the UN Security Council extended UNMEE’s mandate for just a month, until 15 May, warning that unless both sides fulfilled its earlier demands, including lifting restrictions on UN personnel and recognizing the boundary decision, it would review options ranging from transforming the operation into an observer mission to withdrawing it altogether.

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