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UN Peacekeepers Say Eritrean Expulsions Would Cripple Operations

A United Nations official says the U.N. peacekeeping mission monitoring the Eritrean-Ethiopian border may be crippled by Eritrea's move to expel the mission's Western staff members. The mission's deputy chief, Joel Adechi, told reporters today that the expulsions would affect all aspects of mission operations, including supplies, transport, finance and communications. Eritrea issued the order on Wednesday, giving U.S., Canadian, European, and Russian members of the mission 10 days to leave.

Matt Bryden is the director of the Horn of Africa Project of the International Crisis Group. He told English to Africa reporter William Eagle that in theory, that as a Chapter Six operation, the United Nations is expected to respect the request of a sovereign nation such as Eritrea to withdraw part of its troops. On the other hand, he notes that the UN force was established by a cessation of hostilities agreement signed in Algiers five years ago. That agreement is binding, with provisions for sanctions if either party – Ethiopia or Eritrea – does not comply with it.

Mr. Bryden says it’s likely that by requesting the withdrawal of UN troops, Eritrea is signaling its unhappiness with the failure of the international community to convince Ethiopia to recognize the borders decided on by the UN Boundary Commission.

“What the Eritreans seem to be signaling,“ he says, ”is their frustration that four years after the boundary commission delimited the border [between the two countries], Ethiopia still has not accepted the decision and withdrawn its forces from what is now legally-speaking Eritrean sovereign soil, and the international community has done northing about it. So Eritrea is not likely to be impressed that now that the Security Council is bringing pressure to bear on them when they feel the real pressure should be brought on Ethiopia to withdraw [from contested areas].” \

Matt Bryden says the US had been considering appointing an envoy to resolve the crisis but that has not yet materialized. He says Eritrea has reservations about the idea, which has led to what he says is a risky deterioration of the situation.