Global Policy Forum

UN Says Eritrea Cut Off Food to Peacekeepers


By Louis Charbonneau

February 15, 2008

A standoff between Eritrea and the United Nations escalated on Friday as a U.N. spokeswoman said Eritrea cut off food supplies to U.N. troops on its border and stopped them from withdrawing to Ethiopia.

Spokeswoman Marie Okabe said only about half-a-dozen U.N. vehicles had been allowed to cross into Ethiopia as part of a pullout forced by an earlier shut-off of fuel supplies by Eritrea, which no longer wants the peacekeepers. U.N. personnel had been threatened at gunpoint and the Eritrean company providing food to the peacekeepers had said it could no longer do so, Okabe said.

"Not more than six vehicles have been allowed by the Eritreans to cross into Ethiopia," she said, adding that peacekeepers trapped on the disputed Eritrean-Ethiopian border had only had a few days of food rations left.

At an emergency session, the Security Council condemned Eritrea's "lack of cooperation," held it responsible for the mission's safety, demanded it end all restrictions and warned of unspecified "further appropriate steps" if it did not. "The situation of UNMEE is becoming very, very delicate," Panama's ambassador, Ricardo Alberto Arias, current president of the council, told reporters. Other diplomats called Eritrea's action unprecedented in U.N. peacekeeping history.

Eritrea's Foreign Ministry dismissed the charges and accused U.N. peacekeeping officials and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's office of making "unwarranted accusations" and "distorting the reality" of the U.N. peacekeeping mission. Insinuations that UNMEE troops in Eritrea were in danger were "unfounded," the ministry said in the statement sent to the 15-nation Security Council.

U.N. troops on the border between the two Horn of Africa foes have been struggling for months to deal with the fuel blockade and recently were ordered to relocate to Ethiopia. The 1,700-strong U.N. mission started work in 2000, at the end of a two-year war between the two countries that killed an estimated 70,000 people. They have been stationed in a 15.5-mile (25-km) buffer zone inside Eritrea.

The two countries insist they will not start another war, but both have moved tens of thousands of troops to the border because of the dispute over their 620-mile (1,000 km) frontier. U.N. officials have said their peacekeepers were reluctant to leave because they feared it could spark a new conflict.


Okabe said formal protests would be delivered to Eritrea "at the highest level." Countries contributing to the U.N. force held an emergency meeting on Friday evening.

Eritrea shut off fuel supplies to UNMEE in December after an independent border commission marked the boundary by map coordinates, a ruling Eritrea accepted but Ethiopia rejected. Asmara says the commission's ruling, which went in its favor, ended the border dispute and the United Nations should now be focusing on ending Ethiopia's "occupation" of its territory. It has ignored U.N. calls to lift the fuel blockade.

But diplomats said Arias had told the council Eritrea's U.N. ambassador had told him there was a general fuel shortage in the country and he was "ready to solve all problems linked to this emergency situation".

Advance units of the force began moving by road to designated relocation sites on the Ethiopian side of the border on Monday while the main body began moving on Thursday. Diplomats could not say what "further steps" the council might take. "We haven't discussed any of the particular steps," one said. "We hope this message will be enough."

The council renewed UNMEE's mandate for six months on Jan. 30 despite a proposal by Ban for just one month because of the force's difficulties. Diplomats said the council felt a short extension would mean submitting to "blackmail" by Eritrea.

More Information on the Security Council
More Information on Ethiopia and Eritrea
More Information on Peacekeeping


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