Eritrea today requested that members of the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) who are nationals of key States leave that operation, drawing immediate condemnation from the Security Council and Secretary-General Kofi Annan, as well as a world body's senior peacekeeping official, who said there will be no pullout of personnel.
After earlier banning UNMEE flights from its airspace, Eritrea requested the departure of staff from the United States, Canada and Europe including Russia, within 10 days. No reason was given.
Both the Secretary-General, who issued the statement through a spokesman, and the Council, whose statement was read out by its President Emyr Jones Parry of the United Kingdom, demanded that Eritrea reverse the decision.
Both stressed that the request contravenes Eritrea's obligation under the United Nations Charter to respect the exclusively international character of UN peacekeeping operations and staff.
“This obligation is a fundamental principle of United Nations peacekeeping,” said Mr. Annan's spokesman on his behalf. “The request is inconsistent with the authority of the Secretary-General, in whom command of the peacekeeping operation has been vested by the Security Council, as well as with the international responsibilities of the Secretary-General and the staff of the Organization.”
Both the Council and the Secretary-General also demanded that Eritrea reverse its ban on airflights and all restrictions imposed on UNMEE's operations as called for by the Council's 23 November resolution on the matter.
That resolution, adopted unanimously by the 15-member body, threatened action, which could include sanctions, against Eritrea and Ethiopia if, in the case of Eritrea, it does not immediately rescind its flight ban, and against both parties if they do not reverse their military build up.
“We all know the very difficult situation that is there between Ethiopia and Eritrea,” said Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean Marie Guéhenno after he briefed the Council, referring to the border dispute that erupted into a deadly fighting between 1998 and 2000 and has yet to be resolved.
“This situation needs to be addressed, but the actions that have just been announced by the Government of Eritrea are unacceptable and we do expect the Government should reconsider them shortly.”
He said the UN would not pull its people out. “We have no intention of jeopardizing a fundamental principle of the universality of a peacekeeping operation representing the whole of the international community,” he declared.