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Security Council "concerned" by limits on UN troop movement in East Africa

Security Council "concerned" by limits on UN troop movement in East Africa

Members of the United Nations Security Council today expressed concern over reports that the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) does not have the full freedom of movement it needs to monitor the border between the two countries.

Speaking to the press, Council President James Cunningham of the United States said Council members were "seriously concerned" that UNMEE did not have full freedom of movement in the Temporary Security Zone (TSZ), and particularly in the adjacent 15-kilometre areas north and south of the zone.

"Council members were also very concerned by information on Eritrea's stationing of a large number of militiamen in the zone, which should be patrolled by a small appropriate number of civilian personnel and police," Ambassador Cunningham said, adding that Council members made it clear that they expect both parties to demonstrate their commitment to the peace process by taking steps to "build upon previous success rather than undermine it."

The Council members asked Ambassador Cunningham, in his capacity as Council President, to meet with the permanent representatives of Eritrea and Ethiopia to express the Council's concerns. The members also congratulated both countries and Secretary-General Kofi Annan, for reaching agreement on the composition of the Boundary Commission, which Ambassador Cunningham called "something that is central for the process to move forward." That Commission will decide the delimitation and demarcation of the border between the two countries.

Mr. Cunningham's comments followed a briefing today to the Council by UNMEE chief Legwaila Joseph Legwaila, who said that the peace process between Eritrea and Ethiopia was going "very well," but that Asmara's denial of freedom of movement for UN troops represented an obstacle to the peacekeepers' work.

The UNMEE chief told the press that diplomatic efforts by the UN mission to solve the matter were ongoing, both at the Security Council level and in East Africa. "To deny UNMEE freedom of movement is simply to say, 'Go home' because there is no way we can do our job unless we are able to move around freely," Mr. Legwaila said. "That is what I have said to the Security Council and that is what we have said to the parties."

According to Security Council resolutions, UNMEE is to be granted freedom of movement within TSZ - which is 25 kilometres wide and 900 kilometres long - as well as in what is called "adjacent areas" 15 kilometres north and south of the zone.