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Eritrea/Ethiopia: UN increasingly restricted

Increasing restrictions on Eritrean-Ethiopian border hampering UN peace mission

Increasing restrictions on the freedom of movement of United Nations peacekeepers following an Eritrean ban on helicopter flights has made it harder to warn the international community of any new outbreak of hostilities on the tense frontier with Ethiopia, where the two countries fought a two-year border war.

The UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) reported today that it had already vacated 17 of 18 outlying posts it has been forced to leave because of the ban. Restrictions on freedom of movement had increased throughout the area which the peacekeepers are still patrolling, about 40 per cent of what it used to be, making it difficult to monitor the tense 1,000 kilometre border, it said.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan has warned that the situation could lead to another round of "devastating hostilities," which ended following the Algiers peace accords of 2000. Apart from forcing UNMEE to evacuate posts in the so-called Temporary Security Zone (TSZ), the ban has endangered peacekeepers who need to be evacuated for medical treatment, forcing them to take the long land route.

UNMEE reported that a mine accident on the Ethiopian side of the border last week was caused by a newly laid anti-tank mine. All organizations using the area have been urged to exercise due care.

Last week, the Security Council threatened actions that could include sanctions if, in the case of Eritrea, it does not immediately rescind its ban, and against both parties if they do not reverse their military build up.

It also demanded that Ethiopia accept the agreed-upon Boundary Commission's final and binding decisions concerning the demarcation of the border between the two countries, and that both parties return to their December 2004 levels of troop deployment within 30 days, refraining from threats or the use of force.

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