The United Nations is reducing the size of its peacekeeping mission along the Ethiopia-Eritrea frontier. VOA's correspondent at the U.N. Peter Heinlein reports the cutback is a sign of the Council's exasperation at the neighbors' failure to settle their border dispute.
The Security Council unanimously approved a plan to cut the Ethiopia-Eritrea mission from 2,300 to 1,700. At the same time, the Council lamented the lack of progress in settling a boundary dispute that has festered since a truce in 2000 ended more than two years of fighting that killed 70,000 people.
A resolution extending the life of the mission, known as UNMEE, criticizes both countries. It calls for Ethiopia to accept a settlement handed down by an international boundary commission, and it demands that Eritrea withdraw troops from a buffer zone along the 1,000-kilometer-long frontier.
Diplomats say slashing the strength of the force by 600 is a sign of the Council's frustration at the failure of efforts to resolve the dispute.
Michael Hoare, a spokesman for the British mission to the United Nations, says both sides are to blame.
He said, "The difficulty here is that you have one country, Ethiopia, that has not recognized as final and binding the EEBC decision, so it has played its part in difficulties we have reached, and another country, Eritrea, which is not acknowledging the international nature of the U.N. mission and imposing restrictions that impede UNMEE from doing it is job and in some cases place it in danger."
"So yes, a really frustrating position for the Council, and when both parties are at fault, it is very hard to see how the council can provide leverage," he continued.
South Africa's U.N. Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo says the Security Council resolution is intended as a gentle warning to both sides.
He said, "The resolution calls on both of them to indicate that if we know they are not going to do anything, then the Council will have to take its own actions."
"The problem is they agreed to a border demarcation both of them they crated demarcation body together, so they have to resolve it among themselves, the Security is remaining neutral, saying we want to see movement on both sides before we decide what to do next," he added.
The chief of U.N. peacekeeping operations, Jean-Marie Guehenno was quoted as saying the entire Ethiopia-Eritrea peace process is failing. Speaking to the French news agency on the sidelines of the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Guehenno said the U.N. force is in what he called "a very difficult and uncomfortable situation".
He said the Security Council's move to slash the size of the mission should send "a strong signal to both parties". On the other hand, he warned it would be "grossly irresponsible" for the international community to give up completely.