Visiting Ethiopia and Eritrea amid concerns that deteriorating relations could lead to fresh fighting between the two countries, which fought a bitter border war from 1998 to 2000, a United Nations Security Council envoy today received a briefing from UN military observers but no explanation from the Asmara Government as to why it has banned flights over Eritrean territory.
The Chairman of the Security Council Working Group on Peacekeeping Operations, Japanese Ambassador Kenzo Oshima, who yesterday conferred with Ethiopian officials, today visited the Eritrean capital of Asmara and operational sectors affected by Eritrea's ban on UN helicopter flights.
All the observers stressed the debilitating effects of the ban on freedom of movement and the challenge this posed for the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea's (UNMEE) ability to fulfil its mandate to monitor the ceasefire between the two countries. The ban forced UNMEE to vacate 18 of 40 locations in the Temporary Security Zone (TSZ) because they had become no longer operationally viable.
In Asmara, Mr. Oshima met the Acting Chief Representative for Coordination with UNMEE as well as the Director in the Office of Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki.
Asked whether there was any progress on the issue of humanitarian flights, he said that the issue was raised with the Director of the Office of the President, but no concrete answer was given. Last month permission was not forthcoming for the helicopter evacuation of two UNMEE personnel injured in a road accident.
Mr. Oshima told the press he would report to the Security Council on what he has seen and heard "so that the Council as a whole will be able to make a good judgment" that will above all promote peace between both countries.
Last month, warning that the serious deterioration of the situation could lead to "another round of devastating hostilities," Secretary-General Kofi Annan called on the Council to ensure that Eritrean restrictions on UN peacekeepers were lifted.
But he also urged the 15-member body to address the underlying causes of the stalemate in the peace process, including Ethiopia's opposition to significant parts of the agreed Boundary Commission's binding demarcation decisions.
Since then, UNMEE has reported movements of military personnel on both sides of the TSZ and irregular activities inside the Zone, including small and large military and paramilitary formations, and the movement of armour and aerial defence equipment.