HEAD OF PEACEKEEPING BRIEFS SECURITY COUNCIL ON ETHIOPIA AND ERITREA; SAYS FORMAL SEPARATION OF FORCES ACHIEVED ON 18 APRIL

19 April 2001
SC/7048

HEAD OF PEACEKEEPING BRIEFS SECURITY COUNCIL ON ETHIOPIA AND ERITREA; SAYS FORMAL SEPARATION OF FORCES ACHIEVED ON 18 APRIL

19/04/2001
Press ReleaseSC/7048

Security Council

4310th Meeting (PM)

HEAD OF PEACEKEEPING BRIEFS SECURITY COUNCIL ON ETHIOPIA AND ERITREA;

SAYS FORMAL SEPARATION OF FORCES ACHIEVED ON 18 APRIL

The establishment of the Temporary Security Zone on 18 April marked the formal separation of the forces of Ethiopia and Eritrea, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, told the Security Council this afternoon in a briefing concerning the situation between the two countries.

The establishment of the Zone would permit the restoration of Eritrean civilian administration, including police and local militia, and preparations for the return of the population.  The most immediate challenge now facing Eritrea and the international community, he said, was the return of displaced persons to the Zone.  Eritrea was planning for the return of approximately 300,000 internally displaced persons to the Zone within the next six to eight weeks.  The United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) had made clear to the Eritrean authorities that a precipitous return could put returnees in a dire humanitarian situation, he said.

Deployment of the Mission was now almost complete, he said.  The strength of the military component of UNMEE stood at 4,360 personnel, including 218 military observers.  The Status of Forces Agreement with Ethiopia had been signed on

23 March.  He hoped that progress on the Status of Forces Agreement with Eritrea would soon be made.  The issue of direct flights between Addis Ababa and Asmara was still unresolved.  The UNMEE continued to face repeated restrictions of movement in all three sectors.  There had been no significant violations of the ceasefire, and the situation remained calm.

The Boundary Commission had held its first meeting in The Hague, Netherlands, on 25 and 26 March, he said.  A team of the Commission was in Asmara. The formal orders putting in motion the work of the Commission could, however, only be issued once the challenge to one of the Commissioners, interposed by Ethiopia, was resolved.  The Secretary-General had met yesterday with the representatives of Ethiopia and Eritrea to seek a resolution of the current impasse.  The exit strategy of UNMEE was linked to the successful completion of the work of the Boundary Commission.  It was, therefore, essential that the Commission be able to begin its work without further delay.

Council members welcomed the progress made, particularly the establishment of the Temporary Security Zone, but stressed the importance of establishing direct flights between Addis Ababa and Asmara, the orderly return of internally displaced persons to the Temporary Security Zone before the start of the rainy season, unhindered access to humanitarian assistance for those in need and, a speedy start of the work of the Boundary Commission.

Questions were asked about the availability of maps for mine-removal, the rejection of one Boundary Commissioner, the freedom of movement for UNMEE, and demining efforts.  Those, and other questions, were answered by Mr. Guéhenno and, after resumption of the meeting, by Hédi Annabi, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations.

The representatives of the United States, Tunisia, Ukraine, France, Mauritius, Ireland, Norway, Jamaica, Singapore, Bangladesh, China, Russian Federation, Colombia, Mali and the United Kingdom made comments and asked questions.

The meeting began at 12:42 p.m. and was suspended at 1:20 p.m.  It resumed at 3:50 p.m. and was adjourned at 4:10 p.m.

Background

The Security Council met this afternoon to hear a briefing from Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Under-Secretary-General for Peace-keeping Operations, on the situation between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Fighting between Eritrea and Ethiopia erupted in May 1998, as a result of a border dispute.  The Secretary-General immediately contacted both countries, urging restraint and offering assistance, and asked Mohamed Sahnoun (Algeria), his Special Envoy in Africa, to assist with mediation efforts being undertaken by the Organization of African Unity (OAU).

At an OAU summit in July 1999, the two parties entered an agreement to redeploy their forces.  Despite further mediation, proposals to end the conflict from the OAU and the United States, and talks between a special Security Council mission and the leaders of each country, tension along the border remained very high.  Fighting erupted again on 12 May 2000.

On 17 May 2000, the Security Council adopted resolution 1298 which aimed to prevent the supply of weapons to the two countries.  It also demanded the parties reconvene, under the auspices of the OAU and without preconditions, substantive peace talks.  Proximity talks between Ethiopia and Eritrea resumed in Algiers on 30 May.  They resulted in both countries signing an Agreement on Cessation of Hostilities on 18 June 2000, which called on the United Nations, in cooperation with the OAU, to establish a peacekeeping operation to assist in its implementation.

On 31 July, the Security Council (resolution 1312 (2000)) decided to establish the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE).  The Mission's mandate included:  establishing and operating a mechanism for verifying the cessation of hostilities; preparing for the establishment of a Military Coordination Commission provided for in the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement; and assisting in planning for a future peacekeeping operation.

Reporting to the Security Council on 9 August, the Secretary-General outlined the mandate of an expanded UNMEE and recommended a total of 4,200 military personnel, including 220 military observers, three infantry battalions and the necessary support units, to monitor the ceasefire and border delineation between Ethiopia and Eritrea.  A special representative would have overall authority and maintain close contact with the political and military leadership of Ethiopia and Eritrea.  Offices in Addis Ababa and Asmara would be complemented by regional headquarters based in Mendefera, western Eritrea, and Mekele, northern Ethiopia.

Negotiations continued, facilitated by President Bouteflika of Algeria, and resulted in the signing on 12 December 2000 of a Comprehensive Peace Agreement.  This Agreement commits the sides to a complete termination of hostilities, requires the establishment of a neutral Boundary Commission to "delimit and demarcate the colonial treaty border", foresees the creation of a neutral Claims Commission which would decide on claims from either side, and calls for an independent investigation into the origins of the conflict.

Resolution 1344 (2001) called, among other things, for the establishment of a Temporary Security Zone.  The Temporary Security Zone is an interim measure that has nothing to do with future decisions on the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Briefing by Under-Secretary-General

JEAN-MARIE GUÉHENNO, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said on 18 April the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Legwaila Joseph Legwaila, had announced the establishment of the Temporary Security Zone, which marked the formal separation of forces between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

The UNMEE had welcomed Eritrea’s announcement on 16 April that it had completed the repositioning of its armed forces out of the proposed Zone.  On

7 March, UNMEE had verified the redeployment of Ethiopian armed forces.  Both parties had sought adjustments to the southern boundary of the Zone, as presented to them by UNMEE after the 6 February meeting of the Military Coordination Commission.  The UNMEE had expressed its regret that Ethiopia did not communicate the full nature of its redeployment plans in the Irob area.  The Mission, however, was convinced it could come up with an agreement on the clarification of the redeployment lines provided by Ethiopia. 

The establishment of the Zone would permit the restoration of Eritrean civilian administration, including police and local militia, and to prepare for the return of the population.  On 17 April, UNMEE and the Government of Eritrea had signed a Protocol Agreement that would govern the relations between UNMEE and the police and militia units that would return to the Zone.

The most immediate challenge now facing Eritrea and the international community, he said, was the return of displaced persons to the Zone.  Eritrea was planning for the return of approximately 300,000 internally displaced persons to the Zone within the next six to eight weeks.  The UNMEE had made it clear to the Eritrean authorities that a precipitous return could put returnees in a dire humanitarian situation.  Linked to those returns was the threat posed by the large quantities of landmines and unexploded ordnance in the areas of return.

The quick-impact project programme launched by UNMEE offered a limited,

but fast source of funds disbursement for essential projects in the Zone.  The budget for UNMEE included $700,000 for the implementation of such projects, and  14 projects had been approved by the Special Representative.  However, quick impact projects were a stop-gap measure.  Intervention on a larger scale was necessary.  The United Nations called upon the international community to contribute generously to the United Nations Country Team Appeals of the two countries.

The UNMEE remained very concerned about landmines.  Eritrean authorities had recently provided 313 minefield records.  The Ethiopian authorities had also provided some information, but additional clarifications were being sought. Currently, there were limited mine and unexploded ordnance clearance and minefield marking activities being carried out inside the Zone.

He said deployment of the Mission was now almost complete.  The strength of the military component of UNMEE stood at 4,360 personnel, including 218 military observers.  The Status of Forces Agreement with Ethiopia had been signed on 23 March.  He hoped that progress on the Status of Forces Agreement with Eritrea would soon be made.  The issue of direct flights between Addis Ababa and Asmara was still unresolved.  The UNMEE continued to face repeated restrictions of movement in all three sectors.  There had been no significant violations of the ceasefire, and the situation remained calm.

He stressed that the Zone was temporary in nature and did not prejudge the final states of contested areas to be decided upon by the Boundary Commission. That Commission had held its first meeting in The Hague, Netherlands, on 25 and  26 March.  A team of the Commission was in Asmara to establish a plan of action for the on-site activities required by the delimitation and demarcation of the border.  The formal orders putting in motion the work of the Commission could, however, only be issued once the challenge to one of the Commissioners, interposed by Ethiopia, was resolved.  The Secretary-General had met yesterday with the representatives of Ethiopia and Eritrea to seek a resolution of the current impasse.

The Presidents of the Boundary Commission and the Claims Commission had requested the parties to make deposits to cover the initial costs of the two bodies, pursuant to the 12 December Algiers Agreement.  While some contributions to the Claims Commission had been received, the parties had not yet made any deposits to the Boundary Commission, he said.

He suggested that the Council express its appreciation for the progress achieved, but encourage the parties to cooperate fully with UNMEE and the United Nations in the resolution of all outstanding issues, in particular the composition of the Boundary Commission and the Claims Commission.  The exit strategy of UNMEE was linked to the successful completion of the work of the Boundary Commission.  It was, therefore, essential that the Commission be able to begin its work without further delay.

Statements

CAMERON HUME (United States), commending the establishment of the Temporary Security Zone and the work done by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Legwaila Joseph Legwaila, said UNMEE had become a real model for United Nations peacekeeping operations.

The United States was encouraged that there had been some progress in the work of the Boundary Commission, he said.  The country had worked closely with other Security Council members, the OAU, as well as UNMEE, and would continue to do so.  He stressed the need to prepare carefully in ensuring a safe return home of internally displaced persons, particularly in light of the thousands of landmines that had been so generously sown in the border areas.

OTHMAN JERANDI (Tunisia) said that Ethiopia and Eritrea should now focus on the next phase of the peace process -– demarcation and delimitation of their common borders.  He encouraged the two parties to continue to cooperate fully with UNMEE in the area of demining, which was of pivotal importance.  He asked if UNMEE had the maps necessary for the removal of landmines, an essential task, in view of the need to enable internally displaced persons to return home before the start of the rainy season.

VALERY P. KUCHINSKY (Ukraine) welcomed the establishment of the Temporary Security Zone as an important step towards eliminating the legal and security vacuum in the area.  Expressing satisfaction with the signing of the protocol on the operations of Eritrean forces and UNMEE peacekeepers in the Zone, he cautioned that the Zone was a temporary arrangement that could in no way prejudge the final demarcation of the borders.

He asked whether the rejection of one Boundary Commissioner had been resolved.  He also asked about the Mission's financing, noting that Ukraine was aware of the limited resources of the Trust Fund.  What had caused the delay in reaching agreement over the question of direct flights between Addis Ababa and Asmara?

PASCAL TEIXEIRA DA SILVA (France), referring to resolution 1344 (2001), asked when information on the financing of UNMEE's work would be available and whether the Under-Secretary-General could give more details about its funding. 

ANUND PRIYAY NEEWOOR (Mauritius) appreciated the positive developments in the area and welcomed the establishment of the Temporary Security Zone, which was an important milestone.  He regretted that the subject of direct airlinks between Addis Ababa and Asmara was still unresolved and called on both sides to address the issue without delay. 

He hoped that the work of the Boundary Commission would gain momentum.  He appealed to Ethiopia and Eritrea to address the question of internally displaced persons and refugees without delay, on humanitarian grounds.  That issue was important for the final resolution of the difficulties between the two countries.

DAVID COONEY (Ireland) agreed with Mr. Guéhenno’s suggestions for the Council to send a message expressing its appreciation for the progress achieved, and encouraging the parties to cooperate fully with UNMEE and the United Nations in the resolution of all outstanding issues.  He proposed that the Council remind the parties of their obligation to provide financial contributions to the Commissions.

OLE PETER KOLBY (Norway) said that the full deployment of UNMEE was a key element of the implementation of the peace agreement.  Emphasizing the close relationship between UNMEE and the Boundary Commission, he said an early start to the Commission’s work would constitute a most cost-effective approach to the task.  Stressing that a direct corridor between Addis Ababa and Asmara would facilitate free movement, including flights, he called for the safe return of internally displaced persons and unhindered access to humanitarian assistance for those in need.

Mr. GUÉHENNO, responding to questions about demining efforts, said that cooperation with the parties was good.  The UNMEE had received maps and substantial information and was expecting more information from Ethiopia.  Mined areas would have to be marked, and the population would be warned to avoid improperly marked areas.

He told the representative of Ukraine that he hoped to resolve promptly the problem of the Boundary Commission.

To the question from the representative of France, he replied that the recent contribution of pledges would put the Trust Fund's balance at $5.7 million.  There was, as yet, no budget for the Boundary Commission's logistics, as that had to be developed on the basis of a detailed field assessment of what exactly was needed.

On direct flights, he said Ethiopia wanted a route that deviated slightly from the direct route, which overflew some defensive positions, while Eritrea insisted on a direct route.  That difference between the two positions had not yet been overcome.

The meeting suspended at 1:20 p.m.

When the Council resumed at 3:50 p.m., M. PATRICIA DURRANT Jamaica) paid tribute to the men and women of UNMEE for their accomplishment to date.  The establishment of the Temporary Security Zone recognized the steps taken by both Governments towards a cessation of hostilities, and allowed for return of internally displaced persons to the Zone.  Other progress made was the signing of Status of Forces Agreement.  The issue of direct flights must be resolved, however.

Some 300,000 internally displaced persons were expected to return to the Zone.  That was a massive undertaken requiring close cooperation between the two Governments, UNMEE and humanitarian organizations, she said.  Regarding the work of the Boundary Commission, she said both Governments had agreed in advance to accept the outcome.  Therefore, the problems relating to the composition of the Commission should be resolved without delay.

UMEJ SINGH BHATIA (Singapore) said that the establishment of the Temporary Security Zone was a welcome development.  An area of concern was the restriction of UNMEE movement.  He asked whether the pattern of restrictions and incidents had eased up in the last couple of weeks, and, if not, what actions would be taken.

SHAMEEM AHSAN (Bangladesh) said that while he had shared the concern of other delegations over the delay in establishing the Temporary Security Zone, his delegation now welcomed the Zone’s formal establishment as a positive development.  However, Bangladesh still shared the concerns of other Council members over difficulties in establishing direct flights between Addis Ababa and Asmara.  Perhaps the OAU could play a role in helping to solve the problem.  He hoped all other outstanding issues would also be resolved.

CHEN XU (China) said his delegation was very pleased with recent developments, particularly the establishment of the Temporary Security Zone, which was a prerequisite for the complete implementation of the peace agreement.  He pointed out, however, that the Zone's establishment did not mean that the dispute had been resolved.  It was hoped that the two parties would seize and cherish the opportunity to properly address such issues as the demarcation of borders, direct flights and settlement of refugees.  That would lay the foundations for the eventual resolution of the dispute.

ANDREY E. GRANOVSKY (Russian Federation) greatly valued the dedication of the two countries to peace.  Their commitment had been demonstrated in deeds, not words.  The establishment of the Temporary Security Zone was a qualitative new

stage.  He paid tribute to the efforts of the Secretary-General, UNMEE and both countries.  Current developments reaffirmed the need for an early lifting of sanctions against both States.  He emphasized the importance of having the parties continue to fulfil their commitments under international humanitarian law.  The countries should also support the work of the Boundary Commission.

ANDRÉS FRANCO (Colombia) said the recent achievements demonstrated the genuine commitment of the parties to peace.  Matters still pending were the establishment of the air corridor, the signing of the Status of Forces Agreement with one party, and the work of the Boundary Commission.  The return of internally displaced persons should be carried out in an orderly manner, in order to prevent a humanitarian crisis.  He requested the Secretariat to keep the Council informed on that matter.

ISSA KONFOUROU (Mali), endorsing the link made by the representative of France between UNMEE's mandate and the work of the Boundary Commission, requested figures on the Commission's funding needs.

Sir JEREMY GREENSTOCK (United Kingdom), speaking in his national capacity, expressed the hope that the Secretariat would take note of the strong consensus among Council members.  He welcomed the formalization of the Temporary Security Zone, describing it as a crucial step in the implementation of the peace agreement.  Similarly, the United Kingdom welcomed the signing of the Protocol between UNMEE and Eritrea, as well as the Mission's signing of a Status of Forces Agreement with Ethiopia.

HÉDI ANNABI, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said, in response to a question, that occasional restrictions on UNMEE’s freedom of movement continued to occur and were taken up on a case-by-case basis with the military or political authorities on both sides.  Such restrictions were sometimes caused by an incorrect understanding of instructions on the part of local commanders, although sometimes they were deliberate.  Restrictions could also be caused by a misunderstanding of UNMEE's operations.

On every such occasion, the parties were reminded of their commitment to provide freedom of movement for the Mission's operations, he said.  Sometimes it was necessary to see beyond the limits of the Temporary Security Zone.  The Special Representative had said it might be necessary to go some 15 kilometres beyond the Zone to establish contacts with the authorities on both sides.  That was not always understood by local commanders.

Responding to the question on cost estimates for logistic support for the Boundary Commission’s work, he reiterated the Under-Secretary-General's statement earlier that a team from the cartographer’s office was on the ground looking at the requirements.  It would return at the end of the month with an evaluation of what was required.  Council members would be informed of those estimates.

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For information media. Not an official record.