January 2008 Monthly Forecast

Posted 21 December 2007
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Expected Council Action
The Council is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE), which expires on 31 January. The next regular report of the Secretary-General on UNMEE is due in January.

Key Recent Developments
On 30 November, the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC) dissolved itself. In the absence of agreement between the parties on the placement of border markers, the Commission considered the boundary between the two countries now finalised and marked by coordinates on maps and not by actual placement of pillars on the ground. (The EEBC had set the end of November 2007 as the deadline for the parties to comply with the border-delimitation decision, or have the Commission delineate the boundary by coordinates. While Ethiopia and Eritrea earlier expressed reservations about such a “virtual” demarcation by the EEBC, at press time they had made no related public pronouncements.)

On 13 November, the Council was briefed by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations on the situation. The Council also considered the Secretary-General’s 1 November report. The Secretary-General expressed serious concern about the continuing tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea, the failure to resolve their longstanding boundary dispute and the military build-up along their common border. He stressed the need for the two parties to find common ground. He recalled that Ethiopia accepted the 2002 border delimitation decision “without preconditions,” but now it was rejecting demarcation. Also, he raised concern about Eritrean restrictions on UN peacekeepers and helicopter flights. The report also stated that the continued military build-up in the border area and shooting incidents underscored the risk that miscalculation by either party could result in the situation deteriorating even further.

In a presidential statement on 13 November, the Council reiterated its call for immediate concrete steps to be taken by Ethiopia and Eritrea to implement without preconditions the 2002 EEBC delimitation decision. Overall, the thrust of the statement was similar to previous pronouncements. It called on the parties to commit to sustainable peace in the region, to refrain from using force and to settle their disagreements by peaceful means.

Key Issues
A key immediate issue is whether, in the light of the ongoing stalemate, to renew the existing the mandate of UNMEE. Other major issues include whether to endorse the final decisions of the EEBC and whether the Council might consider some new initiatives to steer Ethiopia and Eritrea towards reducing tensions. A related issue is the concern that these bilateral tensions might increasingly affect regional stability, particularly in Somalia.

The most likely option is renewing the mandate of UNMEE without substantial modifications. This option would maintain a low-key approach based on encouraging the parties to continue to adhere to the requirements of the Algiers Agreement that ended the 1998-2000 border war and invoking again the prestige of the witnesses to this Agreement (Algeria, the AU, the EU and the US).

Another option would be to move beyond the low-key approach of repeated calls for restraint to a more proactive approach to the current impasse given the threat to international peace and security in the region. This could involve some or all of the following:

  • exploring some real enticement measures to incentivise Ethiopia’s compliance with the EEBC’s decisions, including urging development partners to exert positive influence;
  • encouraging active involvement of regional bodies, especially the AU (a witness to the Algiers Agreement);
  • intensifying demands for Ethiopia to accept fully and without delay the boundary decision, noting that prolonged non-compliance with these demands could lead the Council to consider non-military action under article 41 of the UN Charter;
  • encouraging non-Council members with influence in the region to engage with both parties to find a closure to the issue;
  • encouraging the appointment of a new special representative (vacant since May 2006) to facilitate finding a solution to the impasse; and
  • mandating its Working Group on Peacekeeping Operations to discuss with Eritrea the issues relating to restrictions on UNMEE and encouraging the Group to meet regularly with the two countries.

Another option would be to renew the mandate of UNMEE but with modifications based on options suggested in the Secretary-General’s December 2006 report such as:

  • reducing UNMEE’s strength;
  • relocating the force headquarters and its integral units from Asmara to Ethiopia, leaving a small liaison office in Asmara;
  • transforming UNMEE into an observer mission supported by a smaller military-protection force; or
  • converting UNMEE into a small liaison mission with offices in Addis Ababa and Asmara.

This, however, appears to be an unlikely option at this stage.

Council Dynamics
Despite the operational constraints on UNMEE’s monitoring mandate, its deterrent role remains generally appreciated by the Council. Therefore, Council members appear ready to renew its mandate. A withdrawal or significant downgrading of UNMEE could be interpreted as a costly failure on the part of the Council, and most members see its continuation as useful in demonstrating its commitment to peaceful resolution of the dispute.

Most members have gone along with a low-key Council approach for almost two years. At press time, the Secretary-General was reported to be concerned about the growing need to break the stalemate and was considering sending Under Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe to undertake consultations with the parties. This may account for the silence of the Council (and the Secretary-General) following the EEBC 30 November statement to avoid inadvertently exacerbating the situation.

The low-key approach has largely been predicated on the US wish to work outside the Council to persuade the two countries to re-engage. US efforts seem to have significantly diminished recently. Success seems more elusive following the closer US-Ethiopian relationship over events in Somalia. Recent statements by Eritrea indicate that it views the US as being biased against it. Ethiopia’s military involvement in Somalia has further complicated the situation bringing in regional dimensions (with Ethiopia supporting the transitional government and Eritrea supporting the ousted Islamists).

It remains to be seen whether Council members will bring an infusion of new resolve to find closure to the issue.

Belgium is the lead country in the Council on the issue.

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UN Documents

Selected Security Council Resolutions

  • S/RES/1767 (30 July 2007) extended UNMEE’s mandate until 31 January 2008.
  • S/RES/1741 (30 January 2007) extended UNMEE until 31 July 2007 and approved the drawdown.
  • S/RES/1312 (31 July 2000) established UNMEE.

Selected Presidential Statement

  • S/PRST/2007/43 (13 November 2007) reiterated the Council’s call on Ethiopia and Eritrea to implement the 2002 boundary decision without delay.

Selected Letters

  • S/2007/693 (30 November 2007) contained Eritrea’s response to a letter dated 27 November from Ethiopia’s Foreign Minister to the President of the EEBC.
  • S/2007/660 (8 November 2007) contained Eritrea’s position on the EEBC.
  • S/2007/580 (27 September 2007) contained Eritrea’s position regarding Ethiopia’s perspective on its perceived breaches of the Algiers Agreement.
  • S/2007/366 (15 June 2007) contained Eritrea’s position on the border conflict.
  • S/2007/350 (8 June 2007) contained Ethiopia’s position on the April progress report of the Secretary-General and 8 May press statement of the Council.
  • 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/2007/645 (1 November 2007) was the latest UNMEE report.
  • S/2007/33 (22 January 2007) included the EEBC report with a response to criticisms by Ethiopia from its November 2006 letter.
  • S/2006/992 (15 December 2006) contained options for UNMEE and the November 2006 EEBC decision.

Secretary-General’s Press Release

  • SG/SM/11215 (11 October 2007) was a press release expressing concern over rising tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Other Relevant Facts

Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Chief of Mission

Vacant, pending appointment; acting representative Azouz Ennifar (Tunisia)

Size and Composition

  • Authorised maximum strength: 4,200 military personnel
  • Strength as of 31 October 2007:1,676 military personnel
  • Key troop-contributing countries: India, Jordan and Kenya


Approved budget: 1 July 2007-30 June 2008: $118.99 million


31 July 2000 to present; mandate expires 31 January 2008

Full forecast

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