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UN Peacekeepers Set to Leave Ethiopia-Eritrea Border


United Nations peacekeepers prepared to leave the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea, with the mission's mandate set to expire at midnight. As Derek Kilner reports from VOA's East Africa bureau in Nairobi, the governments of both Eritrea and Ethiopia played down the threat of renewed conflict in the wake of the mission's departure, and blamed one another for the continued failure to resolve the border dispute.

On Wednesday, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to end the peacekeeping mission, known as UNMEE, which has monitored a buffer zone along the disputed border between Ethiopia and Eritrea for the past eight years.

On Thursday, Bereket Simon, an advisor to Ethiopia's prime minister, said Ethiopia would continue to search for a solution to the dispute, but put the blame for the mission's departure squarely on the government of Eritrea.

"The mission was not able to function because of the obstacles created by the Eritrean government. The Eritrean government has trespassed the agreement and entered into the Temporary Security Zone. It has created all sorts of obstacles. Freedom of movement was curtailed by the Eritrean government so UNMEE was not in a position to do the rounds to observe the situation, so it was impossible for them to continue," he said.

Earlier this year, the Eritrean government cut off fuel supplies for U.N. peacekeepers, causing the bulk of the mission's presence in the Eritrean side to leave the country. The U.N. had explored the possibility of a scaled-down force to replace UNMEE, but a statement from Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said that option had been rejected by both sides.

Eritrean presidential spokesman Yemane Gebremeskel on Tuesday reiterated his government's position that there has already been a legal ruling on the border and that the UN mission, having failed to enforce the decision, serves no purpose.

"Whether peacekeepers are there or not, it has no impact. Nothing has changed. At the end of the day, UNMEE's presence was simply nominal to create the conditions for the implementation of the agreement. But that has not taken place for the last eight years simply because the Security Council has failed to act on the decision of the commission. And that's because the Americans have been blocking implementation of the decision," he said.

Following the 2000 Algiers Agreement that ended the two-year border war between the two countries, a boundary commission gave much of the disputed territory, including the town of Badme, to Eritrea. But Eritrea's increasingly antagonistic posture has lost the country much of its international sympathy.

Both governments have minimized the possibility that the U.N.'s departure will invite a return to conflict. But many observers are less optimistic, warning that that the removal of peacekeepers removes one of the few remaining buffers between the thousands of troops amassed by each side along the border.

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