At UNchaired meeting Ethiopia and Eritrea trade blame for rising tensions

Setting the tone for Friday’s discussions, the meeting’s chair, UNMEE Force Commander Major-General Rajender Singh, observed that the overall military situation inside the Temporary Security Zone (TSZ) and the adjacent areas had become tense and potentially volatile.Gen. Singh appealed to both governments to comply with the recently adopted Security Council resolution threatening actions – which could include sanctions – against Eritrea and Ethiopia if, in the case of Eritrea, it does not immediately rescind its ban on UN flights in its airspace, and against both parties if they do not reverse their military build up. He added that he would meet separately with both parties on implementation of that text.The Force Commander also cited two positive developments, namely the continued work of sector-level military coordination commissions which he credited with promoting trust, mutual understanding and cooperation between the parties at the local level. The second positive development is the decline in the number of cattle rustling incidents in the border area, he said.Addressing the forum, Colonel Harry Holland-Muter of the African Union expressed concern over the recent developments in the peace process, particularly reports of troop movements along the border. He reiterated the AU’s call for restraint by both parties, noting that the international community had invested a great deal in the peace process. Major-General Yohannes Gebremeskel of Ethiopia agreed with the assessment of UNMEE that the situation is tense and potentially volatile. He alleged that there were a large number of Eritrean soldiers inside the TSZ and said they were exploiting the vacuum created by UNMEE’s reduced capability. Warning of grave consequences if the situation continued, Major-General Gebremeskel reiterated Ethiopia’s commitment to prevent another war and work with UNMEE towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict.For his part, Eritrea’s Colonel Zecarias Ogbagaber said that the security situation in the TSZ and adjacent areas had always been tense because of Ethiopia’s refusal to implement the decision of the Boundary Commission and its troop deployment near the southern boundary of the TSZ. UNMEE’s claim that it had 60 per cent less monitoring capability due to the Eritrean ban on UN helicopters was an exaggeration, he said.He denied the presence of Eritrean troops in the TSZ and said that there are only some additional militias engaged in harvesting activities there. He also lamented what he called the international community’s “lack of concern” for the stalemate and stated that “the helicopter ban can not be bigger than the gross violation of the Algiers agreement,” a reference to the ceasefire accord signed by the two countries in 2000.Regarding the restrictions in the TSZ, he said that these have always taken place even before the Eritrean ban on UN helicopter flights. He further added that Eritrea has no intention of either stopping or restraining UNMEE’s activities inside the TSZ, but it does not recognize the concept of adjacent areas. Colonel Ogbagaber also declared that Eritrea has no intention of mobilizing its forces and that there is no security threat to UNMEE.The meeting was held in a cordial atmosphere, with both sides reiterating their willingness to cooperate with the mission in restoring peace and tranquility in the Mission’s area of responsibility, according to UNMEE. “We’re passing through very defining moments,” the Force Commander said. “It is very important during these moments that we uphold the values that both governments have committed themselves to.”

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