Friday, February 24, 2006

Eritrea has released UN local staff

AP report Feb 23, 2006 reprinted at Sudan Tribune says Eritrea has freed 25 Eritreans working for the UN peacekeeping mission monitoring its tense border with Ethiopia, a UN official said Thursday.

Another two Eritreans who were part of 27 people detained, however, are believed to still be held by the authorities and their location is unknown, Musi Khumalo, spokeswoman of the UN Mission for Ethiopia and Eritrea, or UNMEE said in a statement.

"During the last week, a total number of 27 locally recruited UNMEE staff were arrested by the Eritrean authorities for varying durations," Khumalo said. "As of today, two national staff members have not reported for duty."

Eritrea has given no reason for the arrests.

On Feb. 14, a U.N. diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said Eritreans who work for international organizations, and are therefore exempt from national service, have been arrested in recent months and sent to the army.

The U.N. has around 3,000 peacekeepers patrolling a 15-mile (24-kilometer) buffer zone between the two countries and maintaining a fragile peace after a bloody border war ended in Dec. 2000.

Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after a 30-year guerrilla war, but the border was never agreed. Fighting erupted again in 1998 and ended 2 1/2 years later after tens of thousands of people had been killed.

Under the 2000 peace agreement, both countries agreed to abide by an independent commission's ruling on the position of the disputed 1,000-kilometer (621-mile) border, while U.N. troops patrolled the buffer zone.

But Ethiopia has refused to implement the international commission's April 2002 ruling, which awarded the key town of Badme to Eritrea.

In response, Eritrea has accused the international community of shirking its responsibility to ensure the ruling is obeyed. Since October, it has banned U.N. helicopter flights and the movement of other vehicles at night on its side of the buffer zone.

On Dec. 6, Eritrea gave the U.N. mission 10 days to pull out staff from North America and Europe, including Russia. It gave no reason, but the move came amid mounting concern that both sides were massing troops near the buffer zone as a prelude to a new war. (AP/ST)

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