UN condemns Eritrea


The U.N. Security Council on Friday strongly condemned Eritrea's "lack of cooperation" with the U.N. peacekeepers monitoring the disputed border, demanding that it resume providing fuel and food and allow troops to move freely into Ethiopia.

Council members said Friday they will consider "further appropriate steps" &

which they didn't specify &

for the safety and protection of the peackeepers.

The council met in emergency session after Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Eritrea was obstructing the temporary relocation of the U.N. peacekeepers into Ethiopia. On Monday, Ban ordered the troops to relocate after Eritrea restricted their fuel supplies.

The secretary-general expressed added concern Friday at another "disturbing development" &

an Eritrean company that was supplying food to the peacekeepers told the U.N. mission that it could no longer fulfill that contract, U.N. deputy spokeswoman Marie Okabe said.

Eritrea's U.N. ambassador, Araya Desta, confirmed to The Associated Press that the government objected to the U.N. withdrawal from his country. He insisted the peacekeepers had adequate supplies of food, though not enough diesel fuel.

Russia's deputy U.N. ambassador Konstantin Dolgov said Eritrea's challenge to the U.N. force's movement and operations was "unprecedented" in U.N. peacekeeping history.

Several council diplomats said the Eritrean actions appeared to be aimed at pressuring the United Nations to coax Ethiopia to relinquish a border town.

Relations between Eritrea and Ethiopia have been consistently strained since Eritrea gained its independence from the Addis Ababa government in 1993 following a 30-year guerrilla war. The border between the countries was never officially demarcated, which led to a 2 1/2-year war that ended in 2000.

Under the cease-fire agreement that ended the fighting, both sides agreed to allow an international boundary commission rule on the disputed border. The commission ruling in April 2002 awarded the key town of Badme to Eritrea &

but Ethiopia has refused to hand over any territory.

In apparent frustration at Ethiopia's refusal to implement the ruling, and the lack of U.N. action to press Ethiopia to comply, Eritrea banned U.N. helicopter flights in its airspace in October 2005. Two months later, it banned U.N. night patrols and expelled Western peacekeepers &

and recently it started restricting fuel supplies.

In a statement following Friday's emergency meeting, the Security Council said: "The government of Eritrea has created a situation in which a temporary relocation of personnel and equipment from Eritrea has been rendered inevitable."

"The Security Council strongly condemns the lack of cooperation from the government of Eritrea," said the statement, read by the current council president, Panama's U.N. Ambassador Ricardo Arias.

"The Security Council holds Eritrea responsible for the safety and security of the mission and its personnel. The Security Council demands that the government of Eritrea resume full cooperation," it said.

Jean-Marie Guehenno, the undersecretary-general for peacekeeping, told reporters after briefing the council that the troops were running out of food and fuel.

"We're in a situation where it's getting harder and harder to stay, and it's getting harder and harder to leave. And that's an untenable situation," he said.

Okabe, the U.N. deputy spokeswoman, said that since Monday Eritrean authorities have allowed no more than six U.N. vehicles to cross the increasingly militarized border.

She said there had been one incident in which U.N. personnel were threatened and their equipment seized. Other vehicles were stopped by Eritrean defense forces and prevented from entering Ethiopia, Okabe said.

Unable to move to Ethiopia, which is about a two days' journey by road, about 1,000 of the 1,460 peacekeeping troops in the Eritrean capital, Asmara, were temporarily relocated to other bases within the country at Barentu, Senafe and Assab, U.N. officials told the AP.

"There was a little bit of a fuel problem that was technical," Eritrea's Desta told the AP. "There is no food shortage in Eritrea. Enough food has been going to the troops, like rice, milk, sugar, flour, oil, juice, vegetables have been delivered."

As for the troops, he said, "they leave Eritrea once the Ethiopians have withdrawn from our sovereign territory. And therefore this temporary relocation is not acceptable.

In a statement issued Friday in the capital Asmara, Eritrea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it opposes the temporary relocation of the U.N. peacekeeping mission to Ethiopia because it "is at variance" with the 2000 Algiers Peace Agreement aimed at resolving the two countries' border dispute.

The Foreign Ministry accused the U.N. of "issuing a string of attributed and anonymous statements both distorting the reality" about the U.N. peacekeeping mission.

That's not how council members saw it.

"It's very dire. It's totally unacceptable that a Security Council-mandated peacekeeping mission is being obstructed by one of the parties," said Russia's Dolgov. "Eritrea has to reconsider &

seriously reconsider its posture on this issue and to lift all the restrictions."

Indonesia's U.N. Ambassador Marty Natalegawa said the situation was predictable.

"We saw it coming, I think, didn't we? Because of the obvious lack of cooperation from the Eritrean authorities," Natalegawa said. "This is obviously a very disturbing situation."


Associated Press Writer Edith M. Lederer contributed to this report from the United Nations

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