The UN has instructed its 1200 peacekeeping troops and support staff to gather in the Eritrean capital Asmara. Questions have arisen over how the UN will facilitate the relocation since Eritrea keeps blocking movement of troops into Ethiopia.
Only a convoy of six trucks managed to cross the Ethiopian border, but a good portion of the army was stopped at the border by Eritrean forces and later asked to turn back, according to a UN statement.
Yves Sorokobi, a spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, tells VOA that two third of the mission still remains in Eritrea and they are ordered to standby for departure. “We are regrouping those that are in Eritrea to prepare for departure from that country,” he said. “There have been some complications and some of our peacekeepers have not been allowed to cross the border. They were held against their will with in the temporary security zone between Ethiopia and Eritrea.”
The UN mission now plans to exit through the Eritrean capital Asmara, possibly to airlift the mission, claiming that Eritrea blocked land movement of peacekeepers into Eritrea.
The UN Security council on February 15 criticized the Eritrean government for not cooperating with the UN mission. The UN says Eritrea has blocked fuel supplies to the mission thus, restricting the movement of its peacekeepers along the border. According to the UN statement Eritrea has created a situation, which forced a temporary relocation of personnel and equipment from that country.
The Eritrean government denies UN’s accusation, saying they did not enact fuel sanctions or prevent peacekeepers from leaving Eritrea. Araya Desta, Eirtrea’s ambassador to the UN, says if UNMEE is prepared to leave it has to do so under formal procedures. “For any body to have an agreement and come to a country always, there are rules and regulations. UNMEE when they came in, they came through the door in the rules of the United Nations and in the rules of the Algiers agreement. Now if they have decided they have to go out, they have to go out in an orderly and dignified way, they way they came,” Araya said.
The ambassador claims that Eritrea has nothing to do with the withdrawal of the peacekeepers although the UN alleges that the decision was reached as a culmination of past provocations from the Eritrean side.
Mr. Sorokobi says the Erieans are not cooperating. “Obviously, they are not and that is why we are forced to leave,” he explained. “This is just a culmination of a long process of repeated restrictions that have been imposed over a long period in Eritrea. Before we got to a point where we could not fly our helicopters at night.”
Citizens in both countries fear the border conflict may relapse in the event that the peacekeepers decide to permanently withdraw. There are already reports of Eritrean and Ethiopian troop buildups along the border.
All parties agree that peace is at stake between the two countries that were one nation before Eritrea’s cessation in 1993. It is to be recalled that the bitter two yearlong border conflict between the two countries claimed as many as 10,000 lives.