Faced with Ethiopia’s refusal to implement the binding decisions of a Boundary Commission and Eritrea’s imposition of “harsh, humiliating impediments,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan is proposing a major reduction in the United Nations mission monitoring the ceasefire that ended the border war between the two countries six years ago.
Four options contained in Mr. Annan’s latest report to the Security Council on the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) range from cutting its strength to 1,700 personnel from its current total of 2,300 and maintaining its current limited observation capability on the border to slashing it to 30 to 40 military liaison officers stationed in each capital.
“UNMEE has had to operate under unacceptable conditions for far too long, and I fear that, were this to be allowed to continue, it could indeed have very serious implications for the wider concept of peacekeeping,” he writes, adding that the parties have demonstrated no political will for compromise.
He emphasizes that the stalemate emanates from Ethiopia’s refusal to implement the Boundary Commission’s decision fully and without precondition, which he says is contrary to widely accepted principles of international law, but he also cites Eritrea’s “massive” violation of the Temporary Security Zone (TSZ) along the border, which has led to a deterioration in security since his last report three months ago.
At least to 2,000 Eritrean troops with heavy weapons, including battle tanks, anti-aircraft guns and multi-barrel rocket launchers, have entered the zone during that time, while the country has maintained its ban on UN helicopter flights, depriving the Mission of “crucial capacity to carry out vital aerial medical evacuation.”
It has also restricted UNMEE’s purchase of diesel fuel to less than half its monthly requirements and does not recognize the appointment of Mr. Annan’s Acting Special Representative, Azouz Ennifar.
The four options he recommends for the mission are: a reduction to 1,700 personnel, maintaining its current posts; a similar reduction but relocation of the entire Force headquarters from Asmara, the Eritrean capital, to the Ethiopian side, leaving only a small liaison office in Asmara; transformation into an observer mission with a strength of 800 personnel; and the small liaison mission of 30 to 40 officers.
Noting a Boundary Commission decision giving the sides 12 more months “to reflect on their respective positions and to try to reach the necessary agreement on the emplacement of the boundary pillars,” Mr. Annan suggests that the Security Council may wish to authorize the first option.
“If, however, there is no progress in the coming months towards the carrying out of the Commission’s recommendation, the Council could then consider converting the United Nations operation into an observer or liaison mission,” he writes.
“Despite its reduced relevance, the presence of UNMEE can still help to some extent to reduce the risk of the conflict inadvertently flaring up again,” he says, noting that the presence of these “brave” peacekeepers remains “a political, operational and psychological obstacle to a precipitous action that could result from the current situation where the two armies are already directly facing each other, without a separation zone.”
In 2000 the Council authorized deployment up to 4,200 military personnel, which was reduced in May this year to 2,300.