UN mission personnel and equipment regrouping in Eritrea to speed up relocation

19 February 2008 –

The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) will be regrouping its personnel and equipment in Asmara in a bid to facilitate its relocation because of Eritrea’s lack of cooperation in the efforts of blue helmets to temporarily move across the border to Ethiopia.

The Security Council and troop contributing countries were informed of this last Friday, UN spokesperson Marie Okabe said at a press briefing in New York today.

UNMEE began regrouping this weekend, but two flatbed trucks carrying armoured personnel carriers from Om Hajer, a border post in the country’s far west, were stopped by Eritrean militiamen in the Temporary Security Zone (TSZ). Asmara continues to prohibit both the personnel and the flatbeds from crossing into Ethiopia.

Earlier this month, the UN decided to relocate to Ethiopia after Eritrea cut off diesel fuel supplies to the Mission, paralyzing the operation on that side of the border.

Additionally, food stocks are also running extremely low for blue helmets after a commercial company supplying rations to UNMEE said it would no longer fulfil its contractual obligations.

Asmara’s lack of cooperation has hindered the temporary relocation of UNMEE, whose advance units began moving on 11 February, and there have been reports of the mission’s personnel being harassed and equipment seized by Eritrea.

Last week, the world body’s top officials and the Security Council roundly criticized Eritrea’s obstruction of UNMEE’s efforts to move.

The UN’s top peacekeeping official stressed that it is “unacceptable” that blue helmets, who are deployed to provide assistance, become victims.

“It's a question of trust between the UN and its troop contributing countries,” Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno said, calling on Eritrea to immediately resume its cooperation with the Organization.

By not reinstating fuel supplies to UNMEE, the country “has created a situation in which a temporary relocation of personnel and equipment from Eritrea has been rendered inevitable,” the Council said in a presidential statement.

The 15-member body also said that it “holds Eritrea responsible for the safety and security of the Mission and its personnel.”

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