Eritrean ban on UN flights forces lengthy medical evacuation over land

16 January 2006 –

For the eighth time since Eritrea’s ban on United Nations helicopter overflights took effect last October, the country’s authorities have failed to respond to a request for the emergency medical evacuation of a UN peacekeeper serving in the region, officials with the world body said today.

As a result, UNMEE had had to evacuate a Jordanian officer suffering from acute appendicitis on Saturday evening by road from Barentu to a hospital in Eritrea’s capital, Asmara, a journey that would have taken less than an hour by helicopter but took at least eight hours by road.

The officer has undergone surgery and is currently in stable condition, UNMEE reported.

In New York, UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric told the press that UNMEE’s status was being discussed in the Security Council, and the UN was also awaiting the results of a mission by officials of the United States to the Horn of Africa region.

Safety risks were constantly being evaluated, he said in response to questions, and in cases when they have been deemed untenable, peacekeepers have been withdrawn.

Meanwhile, the Military Coordination Commission (MCC) for Ethiopia and Eritrea met last Friday in Nairobi, Kenya. UNMEE Force Commander Maj. Gen. Rajender Singh told participants that because of Eritrea’s decision to expel UNMEE’s personnel of certain nationalities, the mission had been forced to relocate the affected military and civilian staff members to the Ethiopian side of the Temporary Security Zone (TSZ).

But he stressed that operations continue. “Our staff is still carrying out its normal functions,” he said.

The United Nations chairs meetings of the MCC, which also brings together senior military officials from both sides as well as representatives of the African Union (AU).

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