January 2007 Monthly Forecast

Posted 22 December 2006
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AFRICA

Ethiopia/Eritrea

Expected Council Action
The Council is expected to consider the Secretary-General’s report on options for changes to the mandate of the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE). Given the lack of progress towards demarcation of boundaries, the Council seems likely to decide to reconfigure and further downsize UNMEE prior to the expiration of the mandate on 31 January.

Key Recent Developments
Tensions remain high in the Temporary Security Zone (TSZ). Eritrean soldiers and military vehicles entered the TSZ on 19 September 2006 limiting UNMEE’s ability to patrol the area. Eritrea’s ban on UN helicopter flights continues. Eritrea has restricted sale of fuel and poultry to UNMEE and refuses to recognise the Secretary-General’s Acting Special Representative, Azouz Ennifar. As a result, UNMEE’s capacity is considerably impaired.

In a significant decision, the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC) announced in November that because of serious impediments in fulfilling its mandate, it planned to demarcate the border on maps leaving the two countries to establish the physical boundary. Having rejected the proposal, both Ethiopia and Eritrea boycotted the 20 November EEBC meeting, which was attended by the Witnesses to the 2000 Algiers Agreement (the UN, the EU, the US and Algeria). Asmara insisted that the Algiers Agreement requires the EEBC, not the two parties, to implement the final and binding decision. Addis Ababa claimed that the EEBC was acting beyond its mandate.

On 28 November the EEBC decided to give Ethiopia and Eritrea one year to reach agreement on border demarcation. If no agreement is reached by November 2007, the locations established by the EEBC in its 2002 delimitation decision would take effect. While Eritrea has accepted the 2002 decision, Ethiopia insists that the town of Badme belongs within its territory.

At the time of writing, the US was preparing a statement to be issued by the Witnesses to the Algiers Agreement. This is expected to address the EEBC decision to give Ethiopia and Eritrea a year to resolve their differences over the boundary issue.

Options
Options are:

  • terminate the operation;
  • further reduce UNMEE’s military strength (observation capability would be maintained and UNMEE would retain a presence in the TSZ);
  • reduce military strength and move UNMEE solely to the Ethiopian side;
  • transform UNMEE into an observer mission supported by a smaller military protection force (military observers would not be in the TSZ and would require cooperation of the parties to patrol within the zone); and
  • convert UNMEE into a liaison mission with offices in Addis Ababa and Asmara (limited ability to assess the situation in the TSZ and likely restrictions from Eritrea).

Given the current restrictions on UNMEE and the current risks of wider conflict, maintaining the status quo does not seem a viable option at this stage.

Key Issues
Key issues include:

  • whether by withdrawing UNMEE, the Council would in effect create or contribute to triggering the conditions for renewed conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea;
  • whether the Council should again become more actively involved in seeking a solution to the impasse over the border demarcation issue; and
  • linkages with risks of a wider regional war in the Horn of Africa.

It remains unclear how the two parties’ involvement in Somalia is affecting the Eritrean-Ethiopian border situation and whether Eritrea might become more active if Ethiopia’s attention is increasingly diverted to the conflict in Somalia.

Council Dynamics
While there is frustration in the Council with the lack of progress on the border demarcation, most members are reluctant to make a decision that could be blamed for escalating conflict between the two countries. Mounting concerns over the wider regional dimension have therefore made members more cautious and likely to favour a conservative option. Some interesting dynamics could emerge in 2007 as new members join the Council, including Italy with its historical connection to the region.

Underlying Problems
Reconfiguring UNMEE at most sends a political signal about the Council’s irritation. However, until Ethiopia’s non-compliance with the EEBC border delimitation decision is directly addressed, it seems that Eritrea may continue to obstruct UNMEE as a way of registering its concern.

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/1312 (31 July 2000) established UNMEE.
Selected Letters
  • S/2006/905 (20 November 2006) was the letter from the permanent representative of Eritrea to the Council president on Eritrea’s position on the EEBC’s intention to reconsider the modalities of the Eritrea-Ethiopia boundary.
  • 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.
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.

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 November 2006: 2,285 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; mandate expires 31 January

Useful Additional Sources

  • Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission Press Release 30 November 2006
  • Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission Statement and Annex 27 November 2006

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