UN says Eritrea expels its demining chief (Eritrea)

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Eritrea has expelled the head of a U.N. demining unit in the latest sign of deteriorating relations between the world body and the Horn of Africa state, the United Nations said on Wednesday.


David Bax, the South African head of the mine unit for a peacekeeping mission on the Eritrea-Ethiopia border, was ordered out on accusations of "repeated violations" of local laws, the United Nations Mission in Eritrea and Ethiopia (UNMEE) said.

"UNMEE does not agree with this decision or the rationale given, but has complied with the expulsion order and Mr. Bax has already left Eritrea," it added in a statement.

The case follows Eritrea's ban in late 2005 on U.N. helicopter flights in its air-space and then the expulsion of all Western members of the peacekeeping mission.

Neither UNMEE officials nor Eritrean authorities could be reached to give further details of the case of Bax. He was in charge of efforts to remove hundreds of thousands of landmines littering the disputed border region.

"This latest action of the Eritrean authorities will further affect the mission's capacity to perform its functions as mandated by the Security Council," UNMEE said.

Analysts believe Eritrea's moves against the United Nations are linked to its frustration with the international community for failing to force Ethiopia to comply with a 2002 ruling on their disputed border by an independent commission.

The two nations fought a 1998-2000 war that killed 70,000 people. Ethiopia initially accepted the 2002 ruling, but has since called for further talks before implementation.

Frustrated by the stalled peace process, the U.N. Security Council earlier this year slashed the UNMEE force to 1,700 from 2,300 despite fears in some quarters of a new border flare-up.

Von: 22.03.2007 http://za.today.reuters.com

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