November 2006 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 October 2006
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AFRICA

Ethiopia-Eritrea

Expected Council Action
The Council is expected to review the situation between Ethiopia and Eritrea and options for the future of the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) before the end of November. (UNMEE’s mandate expires on 31 January 2007 as required by resolution 1710).

The expected outcome is a presidential statement reinforcing the Council’s intention to change UNMEE’s mandate if there is no progress by January.

The Peacekeeping Operations Working Group of the Security Council is expected to meet in early November to discuss the possible options for the future deployment of UNMEE.

Key Recent Developments
On 16 October Eritrea moved 1,500 troops and 14 tanks into the Temporary Security Zone (TSZ). Eritrean troops also seized one of UNMEE’s checkpoints. Both the Security Council and the Secretary-General expressed concern over Eritrea’s action calling it a breach of the Agreement on Cessation of Hostilities and called on Eritrea to immediately withdraw its troops from the TSZ.  In a press statement, the Council also called on both parties to exercise maximum restraint and avoid escalating tension.

Ethiopia on October 19 said that it would not react militarily to what it considered a minor provocation.  Eritrea on the other hand rejected the Council’s call to withdraw its troops. It claimed that the soldiers had entered the TSZ to engage in development projects and that the tanks had accompanied them for protection.

UNMEE has found it increasingly difficult to operate in Eritrea as the Eritrean government continues to place restrictions on UNMEE personnel and to ban UN helicopter flights in its airspace.  In December 2005, Eritrea expelled UNMEE’s North American and European staff. These restrictions have constrained UNMEE’s ability to properly monitor the TSZ and they violate the Algiers Agreement . There have been ongoing detentions of UNMEE local staff that have also impacted UNMEE’s work. Recently a UN Volunteer was detained by the Eritrean authorities for five weeks before he was released in early October.   

On 29 September the Council adopted resolution 1710 extending the mandate of UNMEE for four months and expressing its intention to transform or reconfigure UNMEE if the parties showed no progress towards border demarcation.

The demarcation process continues to be stalled. Neither Ethiopia nor Eritrea attended the 24 August meeting of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC).  No dates for a future meeting have been proposed.

Options
The Council will discuss the options presented by the Secretary-General but no decision is expected at this point.  The possible options for reconfiguring UNMEE are likely to be similar to those presented in the Secretary-General’s January report.

  • Maintain the status quo. In this option the UNMEE configuration and mandate would not change. This would buy time for diplomatic initiatives and could act as a deterrent to hostilities. However, safety concerns would remain and UNMEE would likely have difficulty performing tasks because of Eritrea’s restrictions.
  • Relocate UNMEE headquarters from both Asmara and Addis Ababa, but keep troops in the TSZ. The integrity of the TSZ would thereby be upheld but the impact of restrictions imposed by Eritrea would be reduced. However, there would be enhanced logistical challenges and the scope for further restrictions by Eritrea would not be eliminated.
  • Deploy a preventive force in Ethiopian territory south of the TSZ. This option could assist in deterring hostilities and better ensure the safety of UN personnel but it would not guarantee the integrity of the TSZ, nor would it allow for monitoring of the situation on the Eritrean side of the TSZ.
  • Reduce UNMEE to an observer mission. This could be either on both sides of the TSZ or only on the Ethiopian side. It would uphold the principle of the TSZ but at best only limited monitoring would be possible.
  • Reduce UNMEE to a liaison mission. A small office would be maintained in each capital as a political solution is pursued. The scope for operational restrictions in Eritrea would remain.
  • Withdraw UNMEE. UN support for political contact between the parties could be provided from outside the region but it would mean abandoning the UN role in preventing hostilities and maintaining the integrity of the TSZ.

A possible option in November is for the Council (perhaps informally) to narrow down the range of options provided by the Secretary-General by excluding less attractive options and requesting the Secretary-General to develop the remaining options further.

Key Issues
There are several key issues facing the Council in reviewing the options for UNMEE.

  • Should the Council be more proactive in trying to get the two parties to make concessions so that there can be progress in demarcating the border?
  • How to find a balance between reconfiguring UNMEE and avoiding appearing indifferent to a possible escalation of conflict (especially bearing in mind the indications of enhanced involvement of both sides in the conflict in Somalia).
  • Determining an appropriate response to Eritrea’s obstruction of UNMEE (Eritrea’s apparent success to date in forcing dangerous and unlawful conditions on UNMEE sets a precedent which will not be going unnoticed elsewhere, e.g. in Khartoum) while not rewarding Ethiopia given its primary responsibility for the crisis due to its unlawful refusal to demarcate the boundary.

Council Dynamics
Two opposite positions have emerged in the Council. The US argued that the incursion into the TSZ proves that UNMEE should be withdrawn. By contrast, Russia argued that the action demonstrated that UNMEE’s presence was needed all the more. Most of the other members are leaning towards a middle ground, perhaps reducing UNMEE to an observer mission.  The US and Russia may just be testing the waters with their positions.

The final decision will be made in January when the Council meets to discuss the renewal of UNMEE’s mandate.  There is a sense of overall fatigue and frustration with this issue, and some members may be inclined to disengage further if there are no signs of concessions from either Eritrea or Ethiopia by then. In addition, there is an awareness of the pressing need for troop generation as a result of recent peacekeeping commitments.

Underlying Problems
There is recognition that UN involvement with Ethiopia and Eritrea may be a factor which is deterring escalation of conflict between the two countries and that any disengagement may send the wrong signals.

A further underlying problem is the apparent unwillingness of the Council to take any proactive steps regarding the real underlying issue-Ethiopia’s violation of its legal obligations to comply with the EEBC decision regarding the border.

UN Documents

 Selected Security Council Resolutions
  • S/RES/1710 (29 September 2006) extended UNMEE until 31 January.
  • S/RES/1681(31 May 2006) extended UNMEE until 30 September and downsized the mission to 2,300 troops.
  • S/RES/1640 (23 November 2005) demanded border demarcation and the lifting of restrictions to UNMEE.
  • S/RES/1320 (15 September 2000) increased UNMEE and authorised it to monitor the TSZ.
  • S/RES/1312 (31 July 2000) established UNMEE.
 Selected Letters
  • S/2006/362 (5 June 2006) was the letter from the president of the EEBC to the Secretary-General containing a report on the EEBC meeting of 17 May 2006.
  • S/2006/328 (26 May 2006) was the letter from the Legal Counsel to Ethiopia to the president of the EEBC.
 Selected Secretary-General’s Reports
  • S/2006/749(19 September 2006) was the latest report.  
  • S/2006/1 (3 January 2006) was the report with options for the future deployment of UNMEE.
  • S/2005/142 (7 March 2005) contained the EEBC’s appraisal of the stalling of the demarcation, a historical summary of the process, and the 2002 Demarcation Directions.

Other Relevant Facts

 Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Chief of Mission
 Vacant, pending appointment
 Size and Composition of Mission

Authorised maximum strength: 2,300 troops.
Strength as of 30 September 2006: 2,269 military personnel.
Key troop contributing countries: India, Jordan and Kenya.

 Cost

Approved budget: 1 July 2006 – 30 June 2007 $182.24 million (gross)

 Duration
 31 July 2000 to present; current mandate expires 31 January 2007

Full forecast