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The United Nations says it has completed its withdrawal of North American and European staff from Eritrea, meeting the deadline the nation set for their removal.

The U.N. Mission to Ethiopia and Eritrea says the last of about 180 staff from the United States, Canada and Europe left early today (Friday). Eritrea set the deadline last week for their removal.

The mission has been trying to prevent a new flare-up of the two countries' border conflict, which killed about 70-thousand people between 1998 and 2000.

The Security Council decided Wednesday to re-locate the peacekeepers, saying they would be moved from Eritrea to Ethiopia for their own safety.

In October, Eritrea banned U.N. vehicles from patrolling at night, and peacekeepers from making helicopter flights in its airspace.

The Eritrean government has increased pressure on the U.N. peacekeeping mission monitoring a 25-kilomter wide buffer on the country's Ethiopian border.

Eritrea first imposed restriction on U.N. troops - then, demanded that all Western-nation peacekeepers leave by Friday. Since 2002, Eritrea has been waiting for the demarcation of a one-thousand kilometer border with Ethiopia.

An independent commission drew up the new boundary as part of a complex peace accord following a two-year war that ended five years ago. But Ethiopian officials have called for more discussions before accepting the demarcation agreement, which granted Eritrea sovereignty over several pieces of territory, including the flashpoint town of Badme.

International Crisis Group Horn of Africa Project Director Matt Bryden says legally, Eritrea has every right to demand demarcation because the decision was binding and both sides agreed to abide by it. But the research analyst says there are legitimate reasons for Eritrea to start a dialogue with Addis Ababa.

"Ethiopia also wants to discuss a range of other issues, including access to the Port of Assab, ceasing support for one another's opposition and rebel groups, normalization of economic relations and so on," Mr. Bryden said.

Mr. Bryden says Eritrea would benefit from a longer term view, more flexibility on these issues, and says Asmara should not focus exclusively on demarcating the border.

"Eritrea,” he said, “rightly or wrongly perceives a number of international bodies as guarantors of the peace agreement they signed with Ethiopia - the United Nations, the African Union, European Union, United States, Algeria ... and from Eritrea's standpoint that makes them responsible for ensuring that its followed through. And so I think that is the reason we see them putting pressure on the international community rather than Ethiopia directly."

Meanwhile, the U.N. mission is bowing to Eritrea's demands to withdraw Western peacekeepers. Nearly 180 staff members working for the U.N. Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea moved from the Eritrean office to Ethiopia.

The United Nations says the move is in response to Wednesday's resolution by the U.N. Security Council to pull its staff out of Eritrea temporarily, while it reviews its operations in the country.

But the world body is continuing to press both sides to reach a peaceful resolution to the growing crisis.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said: "We are caught in a stalemate where Eritrea maintains implement the decision and all will be well. And Ethiopia maintains, 'Yes, we accept the decision, but we would want to discuss before we implement. And that our relationship is much more complicated than just the border ... and so we have to find a way to breaking this impasse'."

Several attempts to reach the Eritrean government for comment were unsuccessful.

What is next for the peace process? Author Michela Wrong is an expert on the Horn of Africa region. She says it may be too late.

"I think every diplomat you talk to is very aware that these are very fragile and dangerous times,” she said. “My fear is that all this effort that is being put into diplomacy between the two capitals and trying to put pressure on Ethiopia has effectively come too late. That this should have happened two or three-years ago."

Nonetheless, diplomatic efforts to avert another full-scale war between Ethiopia and Eritrea are ongoing - with an emergency European Union mission preparing to visit the region later this week to support the efforts of top U.N. officials.

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