The military situation along the Ethiopian-Eritrean border, which Secretary-General Kofi Annan has warned could lead to another round of “devastating hostilities,” remained tense and potentially volatile during the past week, according to the latest update from the increasingly restricted United Nations peacekeeping mission in the area.
Troop movements continued to be reported on both sides in the Temporary Security Zone (TSZ) and adjacent areas between the two countries, which fought a bitter border war from 1998 to 2000, UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea's (UNMEE) spokeswoman Gail Bindley-Taylor-Sainte told a news briefing.
“The ban imposed by the Eritrean Government on UNMEE helicopters is still in place, and restrictions on the movement of UNMEE personnel and vehicles inside TSZ in Sector Centre and Sector West have been increased considerably,” she said. “Night movements almost all along the TSZ have been curtailed.”
Asked about the use of the phrase “potentially volatile,” Ms. Bindley-Taylor-Sainte stressed the difficulties stemming from Eritrea’s ban on UN flights over its territory that seriously hampered UN monitoring over the Eritrean sector of the TSZ, and the risks for miscalculations.
“Any miscalculation can lead to something that no one of us wants to think about at this time,” she said. “The (UN) Force Commander made it clear that you have (Eritrean and Ethiopian) forces much closer to the border than we are comfortable with particularly at a time when we can not see.
“We have one group of forces that are 15 to 20 kilometres close to the border. We have another group where we have no idea where many of them are and therefore our degraded ability to monitor, it does create a situation and we have used the word ‘potentially’ because it opens the door for miscalculation.”
In New York, the Security Council was briefed by Ambassador Kenzo Oshima of Japan who just got back from a visit to the region in his capacity as Chairman of the Council's Working Group on Peacekeeping Operations.
In a statement to the press following the closed-door consultations, the President of the Council, Ambassador Andrey I. Denisov of the Russian Federation, voiced appreciation for Mr. Oshima's report and "for the contribution and dedication of the troop-contributing countries" to the mission's work.
UNMEE, set up by the Security Council in 2000 to monitor the cessation of hostilities between the two countries, including troop positions and de-mining, has a current strength of nearly 3,100 troops and 206 military observers.
Last month Mr. Annan called on the Council to ensure that Eritrean restrictions on UN peacekeepers were lifted, but at the same time he urged the 15-member body to address the underlying causes of the stalemate in the peace process between the two countries, including Ethiopia's opposition to significant parts of an agreed Boundary Commission's binding demarcation decisions.