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Future of UN Mission in Eritrea Still Under Consideration


The U.N. Security Council is considering the future of the U.N. peacekeeping mission on the Ethiopia and Eritrea border, which has effectively been suspended because of a lack of cooperation from Eritrea. From United Nations headquarters in New York, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

The U.N. chief for peacekeeping operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno says the U.N. mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea - known as UNMEE - is at a "turning point." " (The Security) Council is very much aware that there are very difficult decisions to be made. It's very important to uphold the authority of the Security Council, of the peacekeepers, which has been challenged."

In December, Eritrea cut off fuel supplies to the mission. After reserves ran out last month, UNMEE effectively shut down, because it was impossible for the peacekeepers to carry out their monitoring of the border. Most of the nearly 1,700 peacekeepers have returned to their home countries until a decision on the force's future is made.

South African Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo, who heads the Security Council this month, said that the council agrees with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has called the way the peacekeepers have been treated "unacceptable." "The Security Council cannot but protect those peacekeepers, because it is not just for peacekeepers in Eritrea, it is for the peacekeeping throughout the world where blue helmets exist," he said.

U.S. Ambassador Alejandro Wolff said Eritrea is only hurting itself by challenging the authority of the Security Council. "It is always important to remember when peacekeepers are sent into the field it is with a view to helping the parties, and anyone who believes we are there because we want to be there and not because the parties need us there is wrong, and I think in the long term Eritrea will pay a very big price for this misjudgment," he said.

The Security Council expects to have another meeting on this subject as early as next week.

Asked if there is a risk of a return to war along the Ethiopian-Eritrean border if the U.N. peacekeepers do not return, Kumalo said the council is aware that there is always the possibility of conflict between these two parties, and it is their responsibility to find a way to live together in peace.

Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a two-year border war starting in 1998 that claimed 70,000 lives. The dispute over the 1,000 kilometer long border remains unresolved despite a peace accord reached in 2000.

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