Eritrean authorities have detained 13 Eritreans employed by the UN peacekeeping mission in Eritrea. The United Nations says another 30 are in hiding for fear of being arrested. The detentions come at a time of worsening diplomatic ties between Eritrea and the United Nations. Their dispute is continuing over the implementation of a peace agreement ending the 1998-2000 Ethio-Eritrean border conflict.
Girma Asmerom is Eritrea’s ambassador to the United States. He told English to Africa reporter Ashenafi Abedje the term “detention” does not accurately describe the UN employees’ current situation. Girma says Eritrean law clearly obligates all Eritreans to mandatory national service, regardless of where they work. He says those who fail to show up for registration are “picked up” by military police. The Eritrean ambassador describes the process as “standard procedure” and “in accordance with the law of the land.” That, he said, is what happened to the UN employees.
Girma says they are local UN staffers and don’t enjoy immunity as employees of the world body. He says, “Immunity applies only to UN employees that come from abroad.” He says by accusing Eritrea of violating the immunity of UN employees, UN officials are simply confusing the public. The Eritrean ambassador says in the end, the status of the UN employees should be seen in the context of “our general policy of national service,” and not as a crucial element in relations between Eritrea and the United Nations.