October 4, 2005

Eritrea tells UN to stop overflights now

By Evelyn Leopold

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Eritrea told the United Nations
on Tuesday it could no longer fly helicopters over its
territory to resupply peacekeepers stationed there after a
disastrous border war with Ethiopia.

In response the U.N. Security Council, at a hastily-called
meeting, said Eritrea should "immediately reverse its decision"
because the safety of the peacekeepers could be imperiled.

There are several helicopter access routes, the main supply
avenue for the 3,000 peacekeepers, organized in UNMEE, the U.N.
Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea. The helicopters are used for
aerial reconnaissance and medical evacuations..

The flight ban "would very gravely impede our capability to
do our job in the peacekeeping mission, " said Jean-Marie
Guehenno, the U.N. undersecretary-general for peacekeeping.

"It would also be a problem for the safety of our staff,"
he said. "Sometimes there are just no roads."

Asked if this was a prelude to more conflict after a
two-year border war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, Guehenno
said, "It's not a good situation."

"If we are not able to move around effectively with our
helicopters, we will have much less visibility on what is going
on the ground, which can in turn create suspicions and create
more instability," Guehenno said.

Eritrea wants to put the new order in place by Wednesday

The flight ban, however, does not cover fixed-wing U.N.
aircraft flying between the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa
and the Eritrean capital of Asmara. Eritrea has insisted that
such flights be routed through a third country.


U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said the Security Council had
to find a way to enforce its decisions and not keep
peacekeepers on the ground forever. In this case, both nations
needed to accept a U.N.-demarcated border,

"We need to use this as a pivot point to find a way to end,
to resolve the boundary dispute... and move on rather have an
indefinite peacekeeping force," he told reporters.

"This is something that has dragged on for two years after
the findings of the boundary commission."

Under a December 2000 peace deal ending the border war that
killed more than 70,000 people, Ethiopia and Eritrea agreed to
accept the conclusions of an independent panel on where their
border should lie.

The commission issued its findings in April 2002 and
Eritrea fully accepted them. But the process of marking out the
new boundary broke down after Ethiopia objected that the
flashpoint town of Badme had been awarded to Eritrea.

The border war began when Ethiopia accused Eritrea of
invading Badme.

The council, in its statement read at a public meeting,
underlined "the need for implementation of the boundary
commission "without delay."