Ethiopia-Eritrean Border Reopens


By Nita Bhalla

BBC News
May 6, 2002

Ethiopia has reopened its borders to United Nations peacekeepers monitoring the ceasefire with Eritrea.

Nine days ago, Ethiopia closed the borders to UN personnel, accusing the UN of violating an agreement and taking journalists from Eritrea into Ethiopian-administered areas without prior permission. The UN mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) has apologised for the incident.

More than 4,000 peacekeepers are deployed in a 25km buffer zone separating the two countries. The first UN flight left Addis Ababa on Monday, following intense negotiations between the UNMEE and the Ethiopian Government


The flight was carrying the head of the UN peacekeeping mission, Legwaila Joseph Legwaila, who has arrived safely in the Eritrean capital, Asmara.

UNMEE are however treading cautiously. For now they are only planning to send out a few vehicles carrying food, water, oil and fuel from Eritrea to peacekeepers stationed on the Ethiopian side. And Ethiopia has emphasised that the decision to re-open the border was only temporary.

"We have to requested a number of things from UNMEE and we need clear answers and explanations before we remove the ban permanently," an Ethiopian official said. "The UN have to prove to us that they are totally neutral and impartial in the manner in which they handle the on-going peace process between Ethiopia and Eritrea".


Ethiopia's main request to UNMEE is the removal of the military head of the peacekeeping mission, the Dutch Force Commander, Major-General Patrick Cammaert, whom they accuse of political bias towards Eritrea.

Addis Ababa holds the Force Commander directly responsible for transporting international journalists from the Eritrean capital, Asmara, to the town of Badme, which although in Ethiopian hands - still remains disputed by both countries.

Both Addis Ababa and Asmara claim ownership of the town, which spawned one of the bloodiest conflicts of recent times. Addis Ababa says by taking journalists from Eritrea to Badme without gaining prior permission, the UN was signalling that Badme is in Eritrea.


The UN blockade has restricted the movement and hampered the efforts of the UN peacekeepers.

The ban has also jeopardised previously smooth relations between Addis Ababa and the UN peacekeeping mission. Although the suspension has eased tensions somewhat, the issue of what the UN should do about Major-General Cammaert still need to be resolved.

Diplomatic sources have dismissed the Ethiopian assertions about the Force Commander saying he is known for his "professionalism" and "impartiality".

More Information on Ethiopia-Eritrea

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