UN Vacates More Monitoring Posts On Tense Border
The recent ban on United Nations helicopter flights by the Eritrean government has forced international peacekeepers to abandon a number of monitoring posts on the tense Ethiopian-Eritrean border region, the UN said in a statement on Monday. Earlier this month, a bus carrying 61 civilians, including women and children, hit a freshly laid anti-tank mine in the TSZ. Six critically injured people were evacuated by an UNMEE helicopter.
"The continuing occupation of small posts in isolated places has become untenable and operationally unviable," the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) reported. "Out of a total of 40 posts [...] UNMEE has now decided to vacate 18 of them and one Team Site of military observers."
The 18 posts are located throughout the border region and include two posts that were vacated last week.
"Troops from these posts will be used to augment other posts in the Temporary Security Zone (TSZ) in order to make their strength operationally viable," UNMEE said, referring to the 25-km buffer area inside Eritrea's southern border.
Eritrea banned the UN flights from its airspace on 5 October. Thus far, no reason has been given for the grounding of the fleet. Eritrean officials were unavailable for comment.
UNMEE officials said that the helicopter restrictions had curtailed their operational efficiency and reconnaissance along the border region by more than half. They also told reporters on Thursday that the Eritrean militia had stopped the peacekeepers from patrolling certain areas in the border region after 18:00 GMT.
The ban prompted fears that Eritrea could be attempting to hide military movements along the border in preparation for possible conflict, diplomats in Asmara said.
On Saturday, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said that he had moved more troops up to the border with Eritrea since December.
The helicopter ban also has forced de-mining activities in the region to cease, as safety regulations require a helicopter to be on standby in case of accidents.
The UN Security Council has called for the ban on helicopter flights to be lifted immediately.
Earlier this month, a bus carrying 61 civilians, including women and children, hit a freshly laid anti-tank mine in the TSZ. Six critically injured people were evacuated by an UNMEE helicopter.
The 1998-2000 border conflict between the two Horn of Africa countries killed an estimated 70,000 people from both sides. Tensions remain high, as the border has not been demarcated.
In a December 2000 peace agreement, the countries agreed that an independent boundary commission would make a "final and binding" decision on where the border should be drawn. Ethiopia rejected the 2002 decision, however, and Eritrea refused to negotiate an internationally binding agreement.
Von: 17 October 2005, http://allafrica.com