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UN Closes Posts Along Contested Eritrean-Ethiopian Border

The U.N. mission stationed along the contested Eritrean-Ethiopian border has vacated almost half of its posts in the buffer zone between the two countries. This comes at a time when war rhetoric about the border is heating up.

The U.N. Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea, mandated to monitor the stability of the border, has closed 18 of its 40 posts within the 25-kilometer-wide buffer zone between the two countries.

Troops in those spots will be reassigned to other posts.

The spokeswoman for the U.N. Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea, Gail Bindley Taylor-Sainte, tells VOA the move was necessary because of the Eritrean government's recent ban on helicopter flights over the buffer zone of the 1,000-kilometer border.

She says troops staffing the posts are in isolated areas.

"If something happens, we have no helicopters to bring them in," she said. "If they are bitten by a snake, if there is an emergency, for just rotating them in and out, we have no helicopter service. To get the people in and out, it takes several days by road."

Ms. Bindley Taylor-Sainte says the posts' closure will further affect U.N. monitoring activities, which she says have been severely curtailed by the helicopter ban.

"We are only able to see around I would say just over 40 percent we are able to monitor, because our capability is down by 55 percent," she said. "What this [closure] will do is our monitoring capability will go down another 10 percent."

The move follows the suspension last week of a night patrol in a sector of the buffer zone.

Ethiopia and Eritrea waged a bitter conflict over their border from 1998 to 2000, during which about 70,000 people were killed.

Under a peace agreement signed in 2000, the independent Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission was created to mark the 1,000-kilometer border. About 4,000 U.N. peacekeepers were dispatched to ensure the stability of the border.

Ethiopia subsequently rejected the boundary commission's ruling that an area called Badme belongs to Eritrea, effectively stopping a demarcation exercise and keeping the exact location of the border in limbo.

Ms. Bindley Taylor-Sainte said last week that there appears to be no violations of the buffer zone. But, she said, the mission could not completely rule out the possibility of a military build-up along the contested border.

VOA was unable to reach the Eritrean government spokesman for comment.

Eritrea had recently warned the United Nations that war between the two countries may be rekindled if the border dispute is not resolved soon.

The U.N. Security Council has called for Eritrea to immediately lift the helicopter ban.