Eritrea expels UN troops

Perhaps some of our Eritrean readers could explain the logic of this decision:

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) – Eritrea has ordered the expulsion of U.S., Canadian and European staff of the U.N. peacekeeping mission that monitors the tense border with neighboring Ethiopia, United Nations officials said Wednesday.

Concern has been growing that war could again erupt between the two countries. Both have been increasing troops along the border and two weeks ago the United Nations threatened to impose sanctions if Eritrea fails to ease restrictions imposed on peacekeepers.

In a letter sent to the U.N. Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea, Eritrea said the Americans, Canadians and Europeans have 10 days to leave the Horn of Africa nation, said a Western diplomat who saw a copy of the letter. No reason was given.

India contributes the largest number of troops – more than 1,500 – to an Ethiopian-Eritrean peacekeeping force of nearly 3,300, and the force is led by an Indian, Maj. Gen. Rajender Singh. Only a few Americans and Europeans serve the mission, most as observers.

The 3,300 peacekeepers and military observers from some 40 countries, 191 civilians and 74 U.N. volunteers work at the mission in the two countries. It was not immediately clear how many staff were involved or whether the order was restricted to military or civilian staff.

“The officer in charge of the mission received a letter yesterday from the Eritrean government. They are asking some of our members of staff to leave, but the specifics of that letter are yet to be worked out,” said Musi Khumalo, deputy spokeswoman of the U.N. mission.

Joel Adechi, deputy head of the U.N. mission, was holding emergency talks with Eritrean officials on the issue, Khumalo told The Associated Press.

In October, the Eritrean government banned helicopter flights by U.N. peacekeepers in its airspace over the buffer zone that separates thousands of its troops from those from Ethiopia. It then banned U.N. vehicles from patrolling at night on its side of the zone, prompting U.N. troops to vacate 18 of its 40 posts.

The U.N. resolution issued last month urged the two countries to reverse a major military buildup on their border. It also presses Ethiopia to accept a 2000 border agreement, but does not threaten any penalties if the country continues to ignore that appeal.

Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after a 30-year guerrilla war, but the border between the two was never formally demarcated. The border war broke out in 1998 and has claimed tens of thousands of lives while costing both countries an estimated $1 million US per day.

A December 2000 peace agreement provided for an independent commission to rule on the position of the disputed 1,000-kilometre border while some 3,200 U.N. troops patrolled a 24-kilometre buffer zone between the two countries. Ethiopia has refused to accept the panel’s April 2002 decision.

See our last post on Eritrea.

  1. I am Eritrean and can’t…
    I am Eritrean and can’t explain this latest move by the government. I really hope the president is bluffing and is not really thinking of restarting yet another devastating war with Ethiopia. Esayas’ goverment is really paranoid about foreigners’ activity in the country. There has been an accusation of the CIA attempting to overthrow him during the last war with Ethiopia, so may be he is trying to remove such a threat before restarting this stupid war. Or, may be it’s just a ploy to put more pressure on the UN so they can in turn put more pressure on the Ethiopians to accept the ruling of the independent border demarcation commision. Don’t really know what Esayas is up to but hopely it won’t backfire.