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Some UN Staff to Relocate to Ethiopia From Eritrea

The first batch of United Nations peacekeepers left Eritrea Thursday, following a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for a review of its mission on the troubled Eritrean-Ethiopian border.

Some 87 staff members working for the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea, or UNMEE, are in the process of moving from the Eritrean office to Ethiopia by the end of this week, with more staff to transfer in the weeks to come.

UNMEE spokeswoman Gail Bindley Taylor-Sainte tells VOA the move is in response to Wednesday's resolution by the U.N. Security Council to pull staff out of Eritrea temporarily while the U.N. reviews its operations in the Horn of Africa country.

"It's really in response to a lack of cooperation with UNMEE by the Eritrean authorities: conditions on the ground, the fact that we have no helicopters, and our inability to fully implement our mandate," she said.

She did not specify how many staff people would be transferred, but media reports indicate that it could be up to 200 people.

Ethiopia and Eritrea had waged a bitter war over their border from 1998 to 2000, during which some 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. At the time, 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.

In recent months, Eritrean authorities have been making the work of the U.N. mission increasingly difficult as the mission monitors the 25-kilometer-wide buffer zone between the two countries.

In October a local Eritrean militia stopped a night patrol in a sector within the buffer zone, prompting the suspension of night patrols in that particular area.

Later that month, Eritrea then imposed a ban on helicopter flights over the buffer zone, prompting the closure of 18 of 40 mission posts.

More than a week ago, the Eritrean government ordered the expulsion of more than 150 European and North American staff working for the mission.

Spokeswoman Ms. Bindley Taylor-Sainte says the Security Council's resolution is not linked to Eritrea's expulsion order.

VOA was unable to reach Eritrean presidential spokesman Yemane Gebremeskel for comment.

Eritrea has called on the international community to put pressure on Ethiopia to respect the boundary commission's ruling and give Badme to Eritea, a move Ethiopia resists.