Global Policy Forum

UN Council Should Act on Eritrea-Ethiopia - Ban


By Louis Charbonneau

March 6, 2008

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged the Security Council to take up a border dispute between Eritrea and Ethiopia which could escalate tensions in the Horn of Africa if left unresolved. The report, dated March 3 but made available on Thursday, comes after the U.N. border mission, known as UNMEE, withdrew nearly 1,700 troops and military observers who for the past seven years had been seeking to prevent Eritrea and Ethiopia from resuming a border war they fought from 1998-2000.

The peacekeepers had been stationed in a 15.5-mile (25-km) buffer zone inside Eritrea. But Asmara turned against UNMEE because of U.N. inability to enforce rulings by an independent commission awarding chunks of Ethiopian-held territory, including the town of Badme, to Eritrea."It is ... imperative for the Security Council to consider ways to address these underlying issues which are at the root of the tensions between Eritrea and Ethiopia and have impeded UNMEE operations," Ban said in his report to the council. "If left unresolved, these issues will remain a source of tension in the border area and will continue to pose an inherent danger of potential escalation."

Horn of Africa neighbors Ethiopia and Eritrea insist they will not resume a war that killed an estimated 70,000 people. But both have moved tens of thousands of troops to the border because of the dispute over the 620-mile (1,000-km) frontier. Ethiopia has called for talks on border demarcation and normalization of relations before it will pull back from areas assigned to Eritrea by the boundary commission.

But Eritrea's U.N. Ambassador Araya Desta told Reuters recently there would be no talks with Addis Ababa until Ethiopia withdrew. Most of the U.N. peacekeepers have moved to Eritrea's capital Asmara. But Ban said they were being housed in "substandard, congested, ad hoc facilities" and would be repatriated pending instructions from the Security Council.


Ban's report details repeated attempts to persuade the Eritreans to end a fuel blockade that began months ago and eventually made it impossible for UNMEE to function. At one point, the Eritreans also cut off the supply of food, U.N. officials said, though Asmara vigorously denied the allegation. Ban said Asmara repeatedly promised to resolve what it described as a "technical matter" but took no steps to ensure the U.N. peacekeepers got access to fuel.

Eritrea's Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Monday accusing the United Nations of deliberately running a smear campaign against the Red Sea country. "The aim of tarnishing Eritrea's image with accusations is part of the strategy to deflect the attention from Ethiopia's occupation of sovereign Eritrean territory and to penalize Eritrea for its firm legal stance concerning the final and binding demarcation of the border with Ethiopia," it said.

It described the repeated notices and letters from U.N. peacekeepers during their standoff with the Eritreans as "incomplete at best and annoying and provocative at worst." The United Nations says Eritrea made it impossible for the UNMEE to stay on the Ethiopian-Eritrean border, though Asmara says it was a "unilateral" U.N. decision to leave the area. Eritrea has called for the United Nations and Security Council to pressure Ethiopia to withdraw from the disputed territory, possibly using sanctions.

More Information on the UN Security Council
More Information on Ethiopia and Eritrea
More Information on Peacekeeping
More Information on The Secretary General: Ban Ki-moon


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.