- The UN peacekeepers monitoring the tense border between Ethiopia and Eritrea are faced with rapidly "deteriorating" conditions. By now, only about 40 percent of the border is effectively monitored, UN officials reveal. At the same time, reports of Ethiopian and Eritrean military movements in the area are increasing.
The ability of UN peacekeepers to monitor the Temporary Security Zone (TSZ) separating Ethiopia and Eritrea is "shrinking" while posturing by the formerly-warring Horn of Africa countries is raising the stakes, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping said today in New York.
"Our visibility of what is happening on the ground has continued to deteriorate," Jean-Marie Guéhenno told reporters following his closed-door briefing to the UN Security Council. "It is probably about 40 per cent now that we can really monitor with some measure of confidence," he added.
Constraints on the movements of the UN mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE), which is charged with monitoring the peace accord of the two neighbours, "have continued to not only be there but to tighten," Mr Guéhenno said, adding that there are limitations in the security zone and on its north and south sides, diminishing the UN's capacity to monitor the area.
The UN Under-Secretary-General also pointed to troop movements, which have been reported on the Eritrean and Ethiopian sides. According to earlier UN statements, several of these movements were questionable according to the peace accord.
However, "both sides disclaim any intent to go to war," Mr Guéhenno said. While there was "no sign of an imminent war," he added that "the kind of posture that the respective armed forces are taking creates a very unstable and very dangerous situation."
Mr Guéhenno further voiced concern about the safety of UN workers in the area. "We now have had eight peacekeepers who have had to be evacuated by road in very difficult circumstances" because flights had been suspended, he said. "So we have troop contributing countries who – because of their commitment to peace and security – are putting their people at some risk."
A peacekeeping mission, he stressed, "can support the peace process – it can not substitute for it." Absent a commitment to by Ethiopia and Eritrea, "we can not enforce a peace between those two countries," he said. The UN recently has threatened to withdraw UNMEE if Ethiopia and Eritrea are not willing to let the peacekeepers operate in line with their mandate.
The current crisis on the Eritrean-Ethiopian border was provoked by an Eritrea-ordered limitation to the peacekeepers' movements. In particular, the order limited the use of monitoring helicopters in the security zone, thus deteriorating UNMEE's capacity to monitor and to move its troops.
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