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Eritrea expels UN mine clearance chief, claiming violation of laws and regulations

21 March 2007 Eritrea has expelled the head of the United Nations mine clearance team in the east African country for what it called “repeated violations of Eritrean laws and regulations” in the latest action against the UN mission set up to monitor the ceasefire that ended a two-year border war with Ethiopia in 2000.

The UN Mission in Eritrea and Ethiopia (UNMEE) “does not agree with this decision or the rationale given, but has complied with the expulsion order,” the mission said in a statement today.

Programme Manager of UNMEE-Mine Action Coordination Centre (MACC) David Bax has already left the country.

The Eritrean move follows the ban it imposed on UN helicopters in October 2005, the expulsion in December 2005 of over 180 UNMEE staff on the basis of their nationality, and restrictions on the freedom of movement of UNMEE patrols on the Eritrean side of the border.

“This latest action of the Eritrean authorities will further affect the Mission’s capacity to perform its functions as mandated by the Security Council,” today’s statement said.

Established in August 2000 as part of UNMEE, the MACC has coordinated and helped implement mine action programmes in Eritrea and Ethiopia. It has also supported both the peacekeeping operation and the humanitarian relief efforts in the Temporary Security Zone (TSZ) and adjacent areas along the border.

Its activities help to ensure the mobility and safety of the UN peacekeeping force and to educate the local population to live safely in environments that are affected by the presence of mines and unexploded ordnance.

In his latest report to the Security Council in January, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted that the stalemate in the peace process showed no sign of ending with Ethiopia continuing to refuse to implement the binding decisions of the Boundary Commission set up under the ceasefire accords and Eritrea maintaining its troop presence in the TSZ along the border and its restrictions on UNMEE.

At the end of January the Council extended UNMEE’s mandate for a further six months but reduced the number of peacekeeping troops from 2,300 to 1,700, including 230 military observers in the face of the ongoing intransigence.

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