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Head of UN Mission to Ethiopia, Eritrea Concedes Misconduct by Some Peacekeepers - 2004-05-10


The head of the United Nations mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea concedes that some U.N. peacekeeping troops patrolling the contested border have misbehaved, but he insists that a recent broadcast by the Eritrean government describing serious allegations of misconduct by the mission is unfair and in some cases exaggerated.

The U.N. mission chief in Ethiopia and Eritrea, Legwaila Joseph Legwaila, told VOA Monday that last week's national television broadcast by the Eritrean government accusing U.N. peacekeepers of having sex with minors, using Eritrean currency as toilet paper, and other serious misdeeds is misplaced.

Mr. Legwaila concedes that the peacekeepers have misbehaved during the mission's four-year patrol and had committed many of the alleged acts.

But he insists that allegations of misconduct have been thoroughly investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice. Mr. Legwaila said it is unfair that the government is bringing up old incidents on television rather than face to face. "Our complaint is not that the contents of this statement are not true to a large extent, but it is simply that these are issues which we can sit down with the Eritreans and discuss," he said.

Eritrea and Ethiopia fought a war over their border from 1998 to 2000, during which an estimated 70,000 people were killed.

Under a peace deal signed in 2000, the independent Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission was created to demarcate the 1,000-kilometer border, while more than 4,000 U.N. peacekeepers were dispatched to ensure the stability of border areas.

Ethiopia rejected the commission's ruling because the disputed area of Badme was included within Eritrea's borders. Late last year, the commission said the demarcation exercise would be postponed indefinitely.

Mr. Legwaila said he thinks last week's broadcast comes out of Eritrea's frustration with the commission and the stalemate that is preventing the border from being marked. "Although we understand that Eritrea has every reason to be frustrated, that frustration should not be taken out on us because, insofar as our mandate is concerned, we are doing a very good job," he said.

Brigadier General Abrahalei Kifle, a top Eritrean military official who deals with the mission, said the televised statement has nothing to do with Eritrea's border frustrations, but it is merely the truth.

He said Eritreans have been asking their government why U.N. peacekeepers are allowed to break traffic rules, take their money, engage in pornography, and do other things contrary to the law. "The report is coming from the people. They are very angry," he said.

Brigadier General Abrahalei said he does not have authority to ask the U.N. peacekeepers to leave Eritrea. He said the government plans to warn their citizens to be on the lookout for the peacekeepers.

He also said his country is cooperating fully with the peacekeeping mission.

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