May 27, 2006 (UNITED NATIONS) — The UN Security Council is expected to reduce the size and mandate of the UN mission in Eritrea and Ethiopian to an observer mission with significantly less troops.
According to the Security Council Report, the 15 member body is expected to adopt a resolution on 30 or 31 May to downsize the 3,350-troop UN mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) to an observer mission with significantly less troops, and change the mandate.
The United States on Monday May 22 proposed cutting troops from the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Eritrea and Ethiopia as a way to pressure the rivals into settling their border at last, diplomats said.
There are divisions inside the Council on the precise number of personnel to be phased out, as well as the shape of the new mandate. The US has proposed that the final number of troops be 1,500 with an additional mandate on the demarcation of the border. But most Council members and troop contributing countries would prefer a number above that. The Secretariat has indicated that an additional mandate as proposed by the US with less troops would be difficult to implement.
The actual phasing out will take several months to be completed. Possibly this will offer the parties a window of opportunity to comply with Council demands. Some Council members consider that there would be incentives for both parties to avoid the downsizing, since UNMEE would not be able to patrol the temporary security zone and would not have enough resources to fully support demarcation activities.
The two Horn of Africa neighbors have repeatedly ignored council demands that Eritrea lift restrictions on U.N. helicopter flights and that Ethiopia abide by a 2002 border deal, which awarded the key town of Badme to Eritrea.
The downsizing decision is the culmination of months of Council activity and successive technical rollovers of UNMEE. It represents a final reaction by the Council that, after all the warnings, not enough progress has been made on compliance with Council demands for the final demarcation of the border as well as on the lifting of restrictions against UNMEE.
Although the parties met again with the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC) on 17 May in Lodon, but no agreement was reached on the resumption of demarcation activities.
Eritrea reportedly sent a letter to the EEBC President, Sir Elihu Lauterpacht, stating that it would lift the restrictions on UNMEE if Ethiopia accepted the EEBC delimitation decision - "final and binding" according to the Algiers Peace Agreement - without preconditions, and took steps to ensure the final demarcation of the border according to that decision.
Ethiopia, on the other hand, reportedly stated that it accepted the delimitation decision, but added the qualification that the contested areas should be discussed as the demarcation proceeded.