May 22, 2006

US urges cutbacks in UN force in Ethiopia, Eritrea

By Irwin Arieff

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United States pressed the
Security Council on Monday to scale back the U.N. peacekeeping
mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea by the end of the month after
the Horn of Africa neighbors failed to make progress last week
in meeting council demands.

Russia, however, opposed trimming the 3,300-strong U.N.
force preserving a shaky peace between the former foes after
their two-year border war, which ended in a 2000 peace deal.

U.N. peacekeeping chief Jean-Marie Guehenno, addressing the
council behind closed doors, also warned that cut-backs would
impair the mission's ability to do its job, diplomats said.

The 15-nation Security Council, in a May 15 resolution, had
given Ethiopia and Eritrea until May 31 to accept the border
drawn for them by international experts and end all
restrictions on U.N. peacekeepers.

If they failed to do so, the measure pledged to quickly
scale back the U.N. force, which monitors a buffer zone along
the 620-mile frontier.

Council members decided on Monday to begin drafting a
resolution to carry out that pledge, and asked Greek Ambassador
Adamantios Vassilakis to lead the initiative. But Vassilakis
later told reporters he could not say for certain that the
mission would end up smaller.

"I don't want to prejudge what will be the final outcome,"
he said, citing Guehenno's opposition to a downsizing.

U.S. Ambassador John Bolton, however, said Washington
wanted both a smaller U.N. force and a more modest mandate,
downgrading the operation to an observer mission.

"We would not support a continuation of the mission in its
present form," Bolton told reporters.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Moscow was "not very
supportive of the idea of cutbacks in the mission."

U.N. troops were sent to Ethiopia and Eritrea following the
2000 peace accord. As part of the agreement, both countries
agreed to accept as final and binding a new border set out for
them by the international boundary commission.

But Ethiopia rejected the border and insisted on further
talks, prompting Eritrea to restrict peacekeepers' movements,
including a ban on helicopter flights over its territory.

The October 2005 restrictions have stoked tensions on both
sides of the border by limiting peacekeepers' ability to
monitor troop movements.

As part of a U.S. mediation effort, officials from both
sides met for a second time last week with the members of the
international boundary commission in London but made no
progress in resolving their differences, Bolton said.