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UN: Eritrean expulsion order could affect peacekeeping mission
Updated: 2005-12-09 11:31

Eritrea's expulsion order for some U.N. staff threatens the entire peacekeeping mission along the country's border with Ethiopia as concerns deepen that the two nations could return to war, a senior U.N. official said Thursday.

Eritrea has given the U.N. mission's North American and European staff 10 days to leave, a demand the U.N. has rejected. Eritrea has offered no explanation for the order.

A preliminary assessment of the order's impact on the U.N. mission showed it would threaten supplies, transport and communications, said Joel Adechi, the mission's deputy head, via video link from the Eritrean capital, Asmara.

The order could affect 180 of the mission's 3,300 personnel, Adechi said Thursday. That would include staffers from 18 of the 44 countries that make up the force, he said.

"The reason for the assessment we are conducting now is to find out how we will be able to carry out our tasks if those people have to leave," Adechi said. "At the end of the assessment we will be able to see if we are able to function like this or what other measures need to be taken."

In response to the Eritrean order, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has decided to send the U.N.'s top peacekeeping and military officials to Ethiopia and Eritrea "to review and assess the situation on the ground and to see what steps can be taken to improve that situation," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Thursday in New York.

Undersecretary-General for Peacekeeping Jean-Marie Guehenno and U.N. military adviser, Gen. Randir Kumar Mehta, will leave "as soon as practicable," he said.

Annan and Guehenno rejected the Eritrean order Wednesday, saying it violates Eritrea's obligations under the U.N. Charter to accept all U.N. international staff. The U.N. Security Council called Eritrea's order "completely unacceptable" and said members will be consulting on how to respond.

The U.N. mission reported Thursday that the military situation in the buffer zone between the two countries and adjacent areas "remains tense and potentially volatile," Dujarric said.

"Troop movements have been noticed on both sides of the border and the ban by Eritrea on U.N. helicopters is still in place and restrictions are continuing on the movement of U.N. peacekeepers," he said.

On October 5, the government banned helicopter flights by U.N. peacekeepers in its airspace in a buffer zone with Ethiopia. It then banned U.N. vehicles from patrolling at night on its side of the zone, prompting the U.N. to vacate 18 of its 40 posts.

Despite repeated appeals from the Security Council and the secretary-general, Eritrea has refused to lift these restrictions. Last month, the council passed a resolution warning of possible sanctions unless Eritrea lifts restrictions on the U.N. peacekeepers and the two sides reverse the worrisome troop buildup.

Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after a 30-year guerrilla war, but the border between the two was never formally demarcated. A border war broke out in 1998 and claimed tens of thousands of lives while costing both countries an estimated US$1 million (euro850,000) per day.

A December 2000 peace agreement provided for an independent commission to rule on the position of the disputed 621-mile (1,000-kilometer) border while U.N. troops patrolled a 15-mile (24-kilometer) wide buffer zone between the two countries. Ethiopia has refused to accept the panel's April 2002 decision.

Guehenno said Eritrea's latest demand appeared to be connected to its continuing anger that Ethiopia has not accepted the border ruling.

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