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Eritrea Expels Five UN Staff


The Eritrean government has expelled five U.N. staff members on spying allegations.

Four out of the five are members of the U.N. Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea.

The fifth was formerly a security coordinator of the U.N. Agencies in Eritrea, according to the Ministry of Information's official website.

Details of the expulsion were posted on the website Tuesday. It said the staff members - from Britain, New Zealand, South Africa, Liberia, and Trinidad and Tobago - were given 24 hours to leave the country.

The website statement gave few specifics concerning the allegations, only that the five allegedly deployed spy networks, recruited mercenary agents, and provided radio communication facilities.

VOA was unable to reach the government departments involved for details, and calls to the U.N. mission did not go through.

Presidential spokesman Yemane Gebremeskel tells VOA the expulsions do not reflect a bias against the U.N. mission.

"They [the mission] have been welcomed by the population and the government has extended to them the maximum hospitality," Gebremeskel said. "At the end of the day, UNMEE [United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea] are here under the invitation of our government. If individuals act beyond the law, of course they are liable, this is the normal practice of any sovereign state."

The U.N. mission, charged with monitoring the contested and at times unstable border area, and the Eritrean government have had a rocky history.

In January 2004, the government arrested and held 10 Eritrean U.N. mission staff members, accusing them of dodging their national service obligations, an action the mission strongly protested.

In October 2005 the government banned mission helicopter flights over the contested border area, prompting the closure of 18 of 40 mission posts. And, in December, the government ordered the expulsion of more than 150 European and North American staff members working for the mission.

Ethiopia and Eritrea waged a bitter war over their border from 1998 to 2000, during which about 70,000 people died.

Under a peace agreement signed in 2000, the independent Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission was created to mark the 1,000-kilometer border. U.N. peacekeepers were dispatched in both countries to ensure the stability of the border.

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