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Gov't says UN has failed to maintain peace in Horn of Africa

[Eritrea] President Isayas Afewerki. IRIN
President Isayas Afewerki.
The Eritrean government has accused the UN Security Council of failing to maintain peace in the Horn of Africa, where a stalemate over border demarcation and the recent grounding of UN helicopters has increased tension between Eritrea and Ethiopia. "The disturbing fact is the Security Council has to date failed to carry out its obligations to maintain regional peace and security under the United Nations Charter and the two Algiers Agreements," President Isaias Afwerki said in a letter on Friday to the president of the Security Council. "Current attempts by the Security Council to blame Eritrea are unwarranted, both legally and politically," he added. The letter followed another on Thursday to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in which Isaias said the UN was engaged in an "unacceptable" campaign to portray "a humanitarian crisis" in Eritrea. "This campaign is apparently designed to cover up the failure of the United Nations to shoulder its legal responsibilities in the border conflict and to wrongly shift the blame to Eritrea," Isaias maintained. The UN estimates that some 2.3 million people - almost two-thirds of Eritrea's 3.6 million population - require some level of food aid in 2005. However, Eritrean officials said they expect a bumper harvest this year, thanks to widespread and sufficient rainfall, a statement from the agriculture ministry issued on Friday noted. Aid workers said the Red Sea state had only authorised food distribution to 72,000 internally displaced people in September compared with 735,000 people in the previous months signaling its intention to shift to a food-for-work aid system. The UN World Food Programme, in a weekly report issued on Friday, said its field monitors "who visited Afabet and its surroundings in Northern Red Sea zoba last week, reported increasing complaints" about food cuts. In some pockets of the country, it added, the nutritional situation could be negatively affected by the drastic reductions in food aid. However, in his letter to the Secretary-General, Isaias asserted that Eritrea's overall food situation had improved. "Our determination and hard work has enabled us to reap a good harvest this year and to overcome and control, if not eliminate by 100 percent, the chronic food shortages we faced in the past years," he said. The UN, in a statement issued on UN News by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs on Friday, maintained that 15 percent of children in some areas of Eritrea were malnourished, while 25 percent to 30 percent of children suffered from acute malnutrition in other regions. Food insecurity was especially widespread among women and children, and more than 70 percent of the country's rural population fell below the poverty line. "Eritrea has only produced 13 to 18 per cent of its annual food requirement over the last few years due to many factors, including poor harvests resulting from five consecutive years of drought, lack of market stability, food price inflation, and the loss of assets and livestock," the UN noted. "Secretary-General Kofi Annan recently wrote to Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki and to the Security Council, expressing his growing concern about the restrictions placed on humanitarian operations in Eritrea by the Eritrean government," the UN said. Eritrea banned helicopter flights by UN peacekeepers in the airspace above the Temporary Security Zone (TSZ) on 5 October. It also prohibited UN patrol vehicles from operating at night on its side of the 1,000 km border with Ethiopia. The UN said the decision had restricted the ability of the peacekeepers to monitor the area and to evacuate medical emergencies by air. In a letter last week, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged Eritrea to lift the restrictions, saying the measures jeopardised troop safety along the buffer zone. He warned that the UN could be forced to pull out altogether if the ban continued. Diplomats in Asmara said Eritrea appeared to have grounded the UN helicopters out of frustration that the international community had not pressured Ethiopia to implement a legally binding agreement. The Algiers Agreement, signed in December 2000, ended a two-and-a-half-year border war between Ethiopia and Eritrea and specified that an independent commission would determine the position of the disputed boundary. However, disagreement arose over the decision issued in April 2002 by the boundary commission. Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi told journalists on 15 October that without "dialogue" it would be impossible to agree on the border. "You could implement the decision [of the Boundary Commission] by dissecting villages left, right and centre and creating a permanent source of tension, or ... on the basis of give and take - mutual understanding - try and find a solution that has a lasting effect as far as peace is concerned," he added. Isaias, in his letter to the Security Council, said: "Ethiopia's presence in Badme and other areas north of the delimitation line constitutes forcible occupation of sovereign Eritrean territory, in violation of the Algiers Agreements and the UN Charter." There are currently 3,300 UN peacekeepers patrolling the TSZ, at a cost of some US $186 million a year.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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