UN to stay despite Eritrea restriction
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Eritrea has ignored a U.N. deadline to grant peacekeepers on its border with Ethiopia access to badly needed fuel, but despite the shortfall, a U.N. official said U.N. troops are reluctant to leave because they fear war could erupt.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon set a Wednesday deadline for Eritrea to allow the U.N. peacekeepers to refuel, saying they faced a fuel crisis. But the U.N. official said on Thursday that Eritrea had ignored the deadline.
"The U.N. cannot afford to leave because it would create the conditions for a resumption of the conflict," a U.N. official told Reuters on condition of anonymity. "Abandoning our positions would sanctify a resumption of the conflict."
He said that the U.N. peacekeepers were acting as a buffer between Ethiopia and Eritrea, both of which have amassed troops on their borders. The two countries fought a 1998-2000 border war and have been deadlocked in a bitter dispute over their shared frontier.
It was not clear how long the peacekeepers could stay put with only meager fuel supplies. If Eritrea continues to deny them fuel, they eventually will have to pull out, using their emergency fuel supplies to evacuate, the official said.
Last week the U.N. Security Council renewed the mandate of the U.N. Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea, or UNMEE, for six months. The council also urged Eritrea to end its fuel blockade of U.N. staff.
But Eritrea, which contends that a continued U.N. presence on the border would be tantamount to an occupation, ignored the demand, prompting a stern warning from the council on Monday.
Several diplomats told Reuters that envoys from a number of council member states had registered protests with the Eritrean mission to the United Nations, urging the country to allow fuel supplies to reach the peacekeepers.
"I think a lot of people are relaying the message," a Western diplomat said.
The council is not expected to formally discuss the issue until it hears from Ban's office on what he has decided to do with the peacekeepers on the Ethiopian-Eritrean border.
U.N. spokeswoman Michel Montas told reporters that no decisions had been made yet.
The 1,700-member U.N. force went to the border in 2000 at the end of a two-year war that killed 70,000 people.
An independent commission charged with marking the border after the war awarded the flashpoint town of Badme to Eritrea in 2002, but Ethiopia did not withdraw. In November, the commission demarcated the line by map coordinates in a ruling that Eritrea accepted but Ethiopia rejected.
UN fears war may start after Eritrea withdrawal
ADDIS ABABA - A new conflict could break out between Eritrea and Ethiopia, the UN says, as it prepares to withdraw its troops. The UN gave a Wednesday deadline for Eritrea to restore fuel supplies to the peacekeepers on its side of the border, or it said they would have to withdraw.
"Clearly the signs point towards a resumption of the conflict," UN spokesman Yves Sorokobi told the BBC. Tens of thousands of people died in the two countries' 1998-2000 border war.
"We know that troops are being amassed in the Temporary Security Zone between Eritrea and Ethiopia," said Mr Sorokobi, UN chief Ban Ki-moon's spokesman. "We know the rhetoric has been warlike and increasingly so. All this bodes ill for peace in the region," he told the BBC's Network Africa programme.
But the BBC's Elizabeth Blunt in the Ethiopia capital, Addis Ababa, says that senior UN officials there are convinced that neither side really wants war. Some 1,400 UN troops and 200 military observers are in the region to monitor a peace deal signed in 2000.
Eritrea wants the international community to put pressure on Ethiopia to withdraw from the town of Badme, which the Boundary Commission set up after the war awarded to Eritrea. But Mr Sorokobi said the peacekeepers were not there to impose a settlement on the two sides - only to monitor them.
He said it was not possible for the peacekeepers to work without fuel. "It is most regrettable that... peacekeepers cannot be allowed to maintain peace." He noted the peacekeeping operations were only being hampered by the Eritreans, not the Ethiopians.
They have had to reduce their patrols, there have been problems with supplies and communications, and they have only been able to run generators for a short time each day.
Our correspondent says that if they do pull out, it would have to be by road, since Eritrea has banned the use of UN helicopters in its airspace. From many locations the easiest way out would be across the border into northern Ethiopia, but it is not clear whether the border would be opened to allow them to leave.
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