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UN Accepts Eritrea's Demand for Withdrawal of Western Peacekeepers


The United Nations has yielded to Eritrea's demand for the removal of all North American and European peacekeepers in the country. The move affects less than 10-percent of the international force along the Ethiopia-Eritrea border.

The Security Council has decided to redeploy about 180 American, Canadian and European military observers and civilians from Eritrea to the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. The observers are part of a 3,800 strong force sent to keep peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea following a three-year border war that ended in 2000.

The Council president for December, British Ambassador Emir Jones-Parry called the redeployment temporary, and said it would have no impact on the mission of the U.N. force known as UNMEE. "We have taken a decision that we will withdraw certain of the personnel out of the area where they are now, and that will be a number of personnel fairly widely drawn, and they will be relocated, but the UNMEE mission as constituted will continue its work," he said.

The decision comes two days before a deadline set by Eritrea last week for the withdrawal of all North American and European peacekeepers from its soil. But Security Council diplomats rejected suggestions they had given in to Eritrea's demands.

Washington's U.N. Ambassador John Bolton said the troops being relocated would include some non-westerners to show that the Council would not be dictated to by Eritrea. He described as "unacceptable" Eritrea's effort to make peacekeepers part of the problem along the border.

But he said Ethiopia also deserves a share of the blame for its refusal to accept a 2002 decision of an international boundary commission that awarded the border town of Badme to Eritrea. "The Council is not caving in, and in fact the point I stressed is that we cannot be diverted from fundamental point which is that the Council has been frustrated for three years by the government of Ethiopia's refusal to adhere to the binding, arbitral decision of the boundary commission, and while we obviously have a difficult tactical situation at the moment facing UNMEE, what the Council should do is pivot to the larger issue of resolving the gridlock that's occurred for the last three years because of the unwillingness of Ethiopia to accept the boundary commission decision," he said.

Both countries have been massing troops along the border in recent months. In October, Eritrea banned U.N. helicopter flights in its airspace along a frontier buffer zone. It later ordered a halt to patrolling by U.N. vehicles on its side of the zone.

Last month, the Security Council adopted a resolution threatening sanctions unless the restrictions on peacekeepers were lifted and troops pulled back from border posts.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan dispatched the chief of U.N. peacekeeping operations Jean-Marie Guehenno to the region this week. But at last report, he was still waiting to meet Eritrean officials.

The Ethiopia-Eritrea peacekeeping force is made up of troops and observers from nearly 40 countries. India supplies nearly half the troops for the mission.