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Eritrea Restricts Flights By UN Peace Mission Over Its Territory

United Nations officials are expressing concern about the fate of a peacekeeping mission in East Africa, after Eritrea announced plans to ban UN helicopter flights over its territory, beginning today.

Thousands of UN peacekeepers are charged with monitoring the ceasefire between Eritrea and neighboring Ethiopia, after a two-year border war. More than 70 thousand people died during the fighting, which ended in 2000.

In September, the Security Council extended the peacekeeping mission for six months. Also last month, a senior Eritrean official warned the United Nations of the possibility of renewed fighting with Ethiopia if the world body fails to resolve a lingering border dispute.

Ambassador Legwaila Joseph Legwaila is the head of the UN mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea, or UNMEE. He told English to Africa reporter William Eagle that the ban impedes the mission from carrying out its mandate – which is to patrol the 1100 kilometer long security zone between the two East African countries. It also interferes with the UN’s ability to bring food to the outlying posts, or evacuate ill peacekeepers from the region. However, Ambassador Legwaila says UN forces are still able to monitor the area on foot – and with vehicles.

He says Asmara has not given an explanation for its decision, though Addis Ababa has assured him that it will not "overreact" to the end of the flights.