The UN Security Council voted on Wednesday to end its eight-year-long peacekeeping mission between Eritrea and Ethiopia, a failure the UN chief has warned could lead to a new war between the Horn of Africa neighbors.
Council members voted unanimously to withdraw the remaining peacekeepers from what was once a 1,700-strong force monitoring a 1,000km long buffer zone between the two countries.
Belgian ambassador Jan Grauls told the council that the mission, known as UNMEE, “had become impossible to implement” because Eritreans progressively limited peacekeepers’ movements — including restricting night patrols, supply routes and diesel fuel. The mission was also undermined by Ethiopia’s refusal to accept an independent boundary commission’s ruling in 2002 to award the key town of Badme to Eritrea, he said.
“The border dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea remains total, and the United Nations is withdrawing without having been able to assist the two countries in finding a common ground, in spite of having tried all to achieve it,” Grauls said.
Other peacekeeping missions that were unable to fulfill their mandates for political reasons, though they succeeded in protecting some civilian lives, were ones to Somalia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Angola, all of them in the 1990s.
Azouz Ennifar, a Tunisian diplomat speaking for the UN mission from Addis Ababa called it “a difficult mission in geographically harsh locations” that tried its best.
Mission officials said about 320 military personnel remain on the Ethiopian side but most of their peacekeeping personnel have already left the Eritrean side. They said the “formal liquidation” of the headquarters in Addis Ababa and Asmara, Eritrea would begin today.
Among both nations the mission has fewer than 400 civilian staff still in place.
Fewer than 200 UN staff remain in Eritrea, most of them Eritreans tasked with guarding UN equipment until it could be evacuated.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned in April that a new war could break out if peacekeepers were to withdraw entirely from along the disputed border, and urged Eritrea to restore the UN’s ability to patrol its side of the border.
Ban wrote on Monday cautioning the council that “the risk of escalation of tension in the border area and a resumption of hostilities, by accident or design, following the withdrawal of UNMEE remains a reality.”
He included letters from Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin saying the Security Council could have done more to protect the mission and Eritrean ambassador Araya Desta saying the council should have thrown its weight behind the boundary commission’s ruling.