May 2007 Monthly Forecast

Posted 27 April 2007
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AFRICA

Ethiopia/Eritrea

Expected Council Action
In May the Council is expected to consider the regular report of the Secretary-General on Ethiopia and Eritrea, which is due by 30 April.

It is unclear whether members will pursue a further drawdown of UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) troops at this stage or wait until the mandate’s expiry date on 31 July. At press time, substantive Council action seems unlikely in May.

Key Recent Developments
There has been no apparent progress with border demarcation, nor has there been any opening from Ethiopia on that issue. Eritrea’s restrictions on UNMEE’s freedom of movement and operations have increased. The mission has been unable to monitor a significant portion of the Temporary Security Zone (TSZ, a buffer area between both countries). Asmara has refused to accept Azouz Ennifar of Tunisia as Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General, and it has criticised the Secretariat and the Council for not taking into consideration its concerns and appointing a new Special Representative.

Routine troop movements near the border on both sides have heightened tensions. There have also been exchanges of accusations.

Developments in Somalia have also increased regional tensions. Eritrea denounced Ethiopia’s intervention in Somalia and the deployment of an AU mission (AMISOM). It also suspended its membership in the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, a regional bloc also comprising Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda, Sudan, Djibouti and Kenya. An alliance of groups opposed to the Transitional Federal Government, including a Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) leader, was launched in Asmara in mid-April.

On 30 January, the Council renewed  UNMEE but reduced the force size by 600 military personnel. Resolution 1741 also reiterated Council demands, in particular that:

  • Ethiopia accepts fully and without preconditions the 2002 delimitation decision of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC) and take steps to allow the demarcation of the border; and
  • Eritrea immediately withdraws its troops from the TSZ and reverses all restrictions on UNMEE, including vis-à-vis the Secretary-General’s Acting Special Representative.

The resolution also called upon the Secretary-General and the international community to help the parties normalise relations. This is linked particularly to the EEBC’s deadline of November 2007 for agreement on the border issue, in the absence of which the Commission would determine the border demarcated by the boundary points listed in its November 2006 decision.

It seems that, in response to this call, the Secretariat has contacted a number of members on suitable and desirable responses to the stalemate. Meetings with a similar objective were also organised by the US.

Options
Options bearing on UNMEE’s size and structure do not seem likely to be on the table at this point. Given increasing bilateral and regional tensions, other options may include:

  • providing positive feedback and suggestions to the Secretariat on its efforts to relieve tensions; and
  • taking the lead in restarting a diplomatic process, by perhaps reviving a role for the Working Group on Peacekeeping Operations.

Key Issues
The key issue is how best to normalise relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea, mindful of the November 2007 EEBC deadline and the relationship between bilateral tensions and instability in Somalia.

Related significant issues include the lack of alternatives to the deadlock and an acceptable mediator. Another related issue is the need to avoid dangerous precedents in restricting the freedom of movement and operations of UN missions while maintaining a force capable of diminishing the prospects of renewed conflict.

Council Dynamics
Having chosen in January an option that decreases UNMEE’s numbers while maintaining its presence and mandate, members now seem focused on how best to normalise relations between the countries within that framework.

However, members seem divided on what this actually means. The US, having openly supported Ethiopia’s intervention in Somalia and the deployment of AMISOM, seems less well-placed to exercise neutral leadership on this issue than in the past. Russia, the UK and some African members who have strong ties with Addis Ababa seem reluctant to openly pressure Ethiopia to demarcate the boundary. Possibly in response, Eritrea now appears to pursue ties of its own with other players such as Sudan and Libya.

Other members seem convinced that the key to solving the border and UNMEE issues is to pressure Ethiopia to abide by the EEBC decision.

Given the perception that more substantive diplomatic initiatives may be ineffective if not counterproductive, most members seem to prefer a cautious approach for now by keeping the parties engaged through calls for restraint and expressions of concern with current tensions.

Underlying Problems
There are renewed concerns that UNMEE is now overstretched to carry out its current mandate.

Further UNMEE reductions may require a significant mandate downgrade and may encourage Eritrea to deploy more troops in the TSZ. Ethiopia, with its commitments in Somalia, is likely to continue its historical opposition to decreases in UNMEE.

UN Documents

 Selected Security Council Resolutions
  • S/RES/1741 (30 January 2007) extended UNMEE until 31 July and approved the drawdown.
  • S/RES/1312 (31 July 2000) established UNMEE.
 Selected Letters
  • S/2007/4 (4 January 2007) contained Eritrea’s position on certain points in the December special report of the Secretary-General.
  • S/2006/1036 (28 December 2006) contained Eritrea’s position on the appointment of a Special Representative.
  • S/2006/890 (15 November 2006) and 905 (20 November 2006) contained respectively Ethiopia’s and Eritrea’s position on the EEBC’s intention to convene a meeting on options for moving the demarcation process forward.
 Selected Secretary-General’s Reports
  • S/2007/33 (22 January 2007) was the latest report, which included a strong response from the EEBC to criticisms made by Ethiopia in its November 2006 letter.
  • S/2006/992 (15 December 2006) contained options for UNMEE and the November EEBC decision.

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 military personnel
  • Strength as of 31 March 2007: 1,796 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

Full forecast