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Eritrean restrictions on UN mission 'unacceptable' - Ban Ki-moon

6 March 2008 – Eritrea's restrictions on the activities of the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) breach the fundamental principles of peacekeeping and raise serious implications for the safety and security of blue helmets deployed around the world, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a report made public today.

Calling the country's hindrance of the temporary relocation of UNMEE peacekeepers “unacceptable,” Mr. Ban wrote that Eritrea has an obligation under an agreement signed in 2000 to treat the peacekeepers with respect and dignity, guarantee their safety and security, and ensure their right to move freely and perform their mandated tasks.

But instead Eritrea had placed the mission in an “untenable situation” by repeatedly obstructing the blue helmets' relocation efforts, the Secretary-General said in the report to the Security Council.

Last month, the UN decided to move its personnel and equipment out of Eritrea temporarily after the country cut off diesel fuel supplies to UNMEE, paralyzing the operation on that side of the disputed border with Ethiopia.

The original plan had been to regroup the UNMEE personnel and equipment from the Temporary Security Zone (TSZ) along the Eritrean-Ethiopian border to Asmara and Assab in a bid to speed up the temporary move. But, due to the lack of adequate facilities in the two cities, Mr. Ban's report said that some peacekeepers will be relocated to their home countries with only essential staff remaining as a rear party.

Earlier this week, the first group of UNMEE peacekeepers – comprising 50 Jordanian troops – flew out of Asmara to Amman.

The report said that the current crisis occurs at a time when several key problems remain in the Eritrean-Ethiopian conflict, including the implementation of the final and binding decision being handed down in 2002 by the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission.

If left unresolved, these issues will remain a source of tension in the border area and will continue to pose an inherent danger of political desolation,” Mr. Ban wrote.

He pointed out that Asmara still has a window of opportunity to reassess its position, as well as resume fuel supplies to UNMEE and lift restrictions on it.

“However, should Eritrea not do so, it has an obligation to facilitate the smooth and orderly relocation of the peacekeepers with their equipment from Asmara.”

On 30 January, the Security Council unanimously voted to extend UNMEE's mandate by six months, calling on both sides to “show maximum restraint and refrain from any threat or use of force against each other, avoid provocative military activities and put an end to the exchange of hostile statements.”

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