U.N. peacekeeping operations in Eritrea crippled by government flight ban
UNITED NATIONS – An Eritrean ban on U.N. helicopter flights has crippled peacekeeping in the buffer zone with Ethiopia, cutting off food and medical supplies to troops stationed in remote areas that are riddled with land mines, a U.N. spokesman said Wednesday.The ban, which began Wednesday morning, has halted de-mining work and curtailed reconnaissance along the tense border separating the Ethiopian and Eritrean armies, spokesman Farhan Haq said. The two nations fought a 2 1/2-year war that killed 70,000 people before it ended in December 2000.U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged Eritrea to lift the ban, warning that the decision could only add to tensions between the two nations. There are some 3,500 peacekeepers and police monitoring the buffer zone along the border, and Annan said the ban violates their right to freedom of movement.”The government has a responsibility to support and ensure protection of these peacekeepers and I hope that the message has got through and they will not move forward with the decision they have taken,” Annan said.There was no sign the Eritrean government had relented. Haq said U.N. helicopters were grounded on the Eritrean side and in the buffer zone. Peacekeepers in remote areas have lost access to fuel, food or medical resupply. Land vehicles can’t get to them because they are stationed in heavily mined areas, he said.Demining operations also had to be stopped because there was no longer any way to evacuate injured workers, Haq said. While some reconassaince was cut back, fixed-wing planes continue to observe some areas.U.N. officials say Eritrea gave no reason for the ban when it told the United Nations of its decision on Tuesday.Yet the region is extremely tense because the two nations have been unable to agree on a final border. Ethiopia rejects a ruling by an international boundary commission that awarded one border town, Badme, to Eritrea.In September, the top U.N. envoy for the region warned that a continued dispute over the border could lead to a resumption of war.On Tuesday, the U.N. Security Council, meeting at Annan’s request, adopted a statement that urged Eritrea to lift the ban and warned the two Horn of Africa nations not to re-ignite their border war. The council called on both countries “to show maximum restraint and to refrain from any threat of use of force against each other.”Annan echoed the council’s remarks, saying the ban on helicopter flights by the peacekeepers could “exacerbate the existing suspicions at the border area and create instability.”Vail, Colorado
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