Ethiopia: Extending UNMEE, Security Council Cuts Troop Levels

The Security Council today extended the mandate by six months of the United Nations peacekeeping mission monitoring the ceasefire that ended the border war between Ethiopia and Eritrea in 2000, but cut the number of blue helmets as it voiced frustration with the lack of progress made by either country.

In a unanimous resolution, Council members agreed to an extension through the end of July, in line with the recommendation of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his most recent report on the operations of the mission, known as UNMEE.

The number of peacekeeping troops will be reduced from the current 2,300 to 1,700, including 230 military observers - one of four options for the Mission which the Secretary-General proposed last month in the face of the ongoing intransigence of Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Mr. Ban's most recent report warned that the continuing stalemate in the peace process shows no sign of ending, and the impasse has the potential to not only lead to renewed hostilities between the two countries, but to destabilize the wider region, especially given the recent developments in neighbouring Somalia.

Ethiopia has refused to implement, fully and without pre-conditions, the Boundary Commission's demarcation of the border with Eritrea, even though its decisions are supposed to be binding under a peace agreement that followed a two-year war in the late 1990s.

For its part, Eritrea has maintained a troop presence in the Temporary Security Zone (TSZ) along the border, as well as tanks, rocket launchers and guns, and it has also imposed a ban on UN helicopter flights, severely restricting the work of UNMEE.

Today's resolution demanded that Ethiopia accept the Commission's decision and called on Eritrea to withdraw its troops and equipment from the TSZ and reverse its restrictions on UNMEE operations.

Mr. Ban said in his report that Ethiopia and Eritrea each needed to do much more than settle their border issue if they are establish a durable peace and reconciliation process.

"The two Governments need to take the political decision to put the conflict behind them, for the sake of their own people, and move forward in a number of other areas that would help them to normalize relations," he wrote.

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