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Eritrea-Ethiopia: At Meeting Of Sides

ERITREA-ETHIOPIA: AT MEETING OF SIDES, UN PLEDGES BEST EFFORTS UNDER TRYING CONDITIONS

New York, Aug 2 2006 10:00AM

A senior United Nations envoy has pledged the world body’s continued efforts to fulfil its mandate in Ethiopia and Eritreaere UN blue helmets are monitoring a ceasefire along the disputed border between the two Horn of Africa countries.

At a meeting on Sunday in Nairobi, the Officer-in-Charge of the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEEeputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General Azouz Ennifar, said the operation will do its best to fulfill its mandate and “do whatever is possible under the circumstances” despite a recent downsizing. In May, the Security Council cut the mission’s troop strength by over 1,000 soldiers.

Addressing representatives of both sides, Mr. Ennifar reported on the serious concerns of Security Council members with the parties’ failure to fully comply with Resolution 1640. Adopted last November, that text threatened actions – which could include sanctions – against Eritrea and Ethiopia if, in the case of Eritrea, it does not immediately rescind its ban on UN flights in its airspace, and against both parties if they do not reverse their military build up.

UNMEE continues to face serious constraints as a result of Eritrea’s restrictions, including the ban on UNMEE helicopter flights in Eritrean air space and Eritrean restrictions on the nationalities of mission staff, the mission’s Force Commander, Major-General, Mohammad Taisir Massadeh told the meeting, citing also Eritrea’s restrictions on freedom of movement of UNMEE’s patrols and denial of access in several areas.

Updating the delegates on UNMEE’s downsizing, Major-General Massadeh gave a briefing on the implementation plan. “We try, despite the downsizing and the restrictions, to hold the same posts and keep going with the same number of patrols. What a company used to do, a platoon now does instead. We are still able to do our job, even though it means putting much more pressure on our troops and our UN Military Observers.”

Brigadier General Otisitswe Tiroyamodima of the African Union said the military situation has been very calm along the Temporary Security Zone (TSZ) and the adjacent areas and that military forces on both sides have not posed a threat. But he said the continued restrictions on UNMEE constitute “permanent violations” of the Algiers Agreement that ended the war in 2000.

Speaking for the Ethiopian delegation, Major General Yohannes Gebremeskel expressed his appreciation that UNMEE continues to “serve us under difficult circumstances”. He expressed concern that the drastic reduction of UNMEE’s strength, on top of the existing restrictions by Eritrea, will further restrict the capabilities of UNMEE to carry out its functions. He reiterated, however, Ethiopia’s commitment to cooperate with the Mission.

Colonel Zecarias Ogbagaber, head of the Eritrean delegation, regretted the lack of progress in the border demarcation process and argued that the downsizing of UNMEE will not bring about a breakthrough in the stalemate. Speaking about the recent developments in the peace process, he reiterated that Eritrea is wary of “diversions from principles” but added that the country remains “committed to the peace process, believing that the international community will play its role.”

2006-08-02 00:00:00.000

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