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UN Awaits Eritrean Response Over Expulsion Order

The United Nations' mission observing the tense border between Eritrea and Ethiopia says it is waiting to hear back from the Eritrean government about its recent order to expel members of the mission from the United States, Canada, and European countries.

The spokeswoman for the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea, Gail Bindley Taylor-Sainte, tells VOA the mission's deputy head gave Eritrean government officials a statement by the U.N. Security Council and the U.N. secretary-general condemning the expulsion order.

She says the two U.N. bodies cannot agree to the order and has demanded that the Eritrean government "immediately and unequivocally rescind its decision without pre-conditions."

The Eritrean government issued the mission a letter late Tuesday stating that, within 10 days, Americans, Canadians, and Europeans, including members of the Russian Federation, would be expelled.

Ms. Bindley Taylor-Sainte tells VOA who would be affected by the order.

"There are 91 military observers, which is about 42 percent of the total military observer strength, six staff officers, which is about seven percent, and on the international side, we have 63 potentially affected staff members and 10 U.N. volunteers," she said.

The United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea includes more than 3,000 peacekeepers and military observers from about 40 countries.

She says the mission is waiting to hear the Eritrean government's response to the statement from the Security Council and Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

VOA was unable to reach presidential spokesman Yemane Gebremeskel for comment. Media reports Thursday quoted Eritrean officials as saying the government fully intends to stand by its order.

Ethiopia and Eritrea waged a bitter war 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. Several thousand U.N. peacekeepers were dispatched to ensure the stability of the border.

Ethiopia subsequently rejected a boundary commission ruling that an area called Badme belongs to Eritrea, keeping the determination of the border in limbo.

Last month, the Eritrean government banned helicopter flights over the 25-kilometer-wide buffer zone between the two countries, causing the mission to close 18 of its 40 posts in the area.

Ms. Bindley Taylor-Sainte says the latest expulsion order will further erode the effectiveness of the mission's work.

"If it were to actually go into effect, it would tremendously impact our work," she said. "With the military, of course, there is concern because our ability to monitor is already degraded by 60 percent."