Special report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea

Security Council

March 10 2008

I. Introduction

  1. On 21 January 2008, I addressed a letter to the President of the Security Council by which I brought to the attention of members of the Council the crisis facing the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) as a result of Eritrea’s stoppage of all fuel supplies to the Mission since 1 December 2007. In my report of 23 January 2008 (S/2008/40 and Corr.1), I informed the Council that UNMEE was beginning to experience serious difficulties in sustaining its troops and military observers and in maintaining reliable communications with deployment sites in the Temporary Security one.
  2. UNMEE had formally conveyed its serious concerns about the non-delivery of fuel in a letter dated 12 December 2007 addressed to the Eritrean Commissioner who oversees liaison with the Mission. Follow-up letters were also sent to the Commissioner by UNMEE on 24 and 26 December 2007. In addition, my Deputy Special Representative met with the Commissioner on 18 and 22 December 2007, and again on 28 and 29 January 2008 to impress upon him the gravity of the crisis and its impact on the operations of the Mission, as well as the safety and security of its personnel. Furthermore, UNMEE sought, on several occasions, Eritrea’s authorization to import the fuel directly or from the United Nations Mission in the Sudan.
  3. The Eritrean authorities informed UNMEE that the non-delivery of fuel to the Mission was “a technical matter” that would be resolved shortly. However, despite multiple representations by the Mission and United Nations Headquarters, they did not subsequently take any action to address the situation or allow the Mission to import the fuel. I therefore addressed a letter to President Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea on 21 January 2008, requesting him, as a last resort, to intervene personally to resolve the crisis. In that letter, I pointed out that the fuel crisis was forcing UNMEE to halt its operations by making it difficult to maintain reliable communications and sustain troops and military observers in the Temporary Security Zone. Furthermore, I took the opportunity to renew my offer to assist Eritrea and Ethiopia to implement their obligations under the Algiers Agreements.
  4. By the end of January, the situation remained unresolved, forcing UNMEE to drastically reduce its daily patrols in the Temporary Security Zone, from 60 on average before the fuel stoppage, to a mere 20. At that time, the Mission estimated that, if it maintained that minimum level of operations without replenishing its dwindling stocks, the available fuel would be completely exhausted by the end of March 2008.
  5. As the crisis remained unresolved when I met with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia in Addis Ababa on 31 January, on the margins of the African Union Summit, I conveyed my deep concern about the situation facing UNMEE and informed him that if the fuel supplies were not resumed immediately, the Mission would be forced to halt its operations and relocate from Eritrea. I sought the Prime Minister’s agreement to temporarily relocate UNMEE Eritrea-based personnel and equipment to Ethiopia, pending a resolution of the difficulties created by the fuel crisis and a decision of the Security Council on the future direction of the Mission. The Prime Minister agreed, in principle, to my request and indicated to me that the longer-term presence of relocated personnel from UNMEE would require further discussion.
  6. As the situation had become untenable for UNMEE, and especially for the peacekeepers deployed in remote areas of the Temporary Security Zone, I sent a further letter to the President of the Security Council on 1 February 2008 (S/2008/66). In that letter, I informed the President of the Council that if the Eritrean authorities did not resume the fuel supplies by 6 February 2008, I would be compelled to instruct UNMEE to begin relocating the Mission’s personnel and equipment from Eritrea in order to avoid total immobilization of the Mission, which would endanger the safety and security of United Nations personnel. I also informed the Council that the Department of Peacekeeping Operations would immediately send a technical assessment mission to Eritrea and Ethiopia to discuss ways of addressing the crisis, assist UNMEE to finalize an emergency relocation plan and seek its views, as well as those of the Eritrean and Ethiopian authorities, on the future direction of the Mission.
  7. II. Emergency relocation of UNMEE

  8. The technical assessment mission, which comprised participants from relevant offices of the Departments of Peacekeeping Operations, Field Support and Safety and Security, travelled to Addis Ababa from 6 to 11 February. The technical assessment mission was not able to travel to Eritrea because the Eritrean authorities, without providing any reason, cancelled the visas which had been issued to the participants a day earlier. However, the Secretariat addressed a note verbale to the Permanent Mission of Eritrea to the United Nations on 8 February, informing the Government of Eritrea of the decision to relocate the Mission’s personnel and requesting the Government to extend the necessary cooperation to UNMEE.
  9. The technical assessment mission assisted UNMEE in finalizing its emergency relocation plan and held productive discussions on the plan, as well as on the future direction of UNMEE, with senior officials from the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Chief of General Staff of the Ethiopian Armed Forces and commanders of the military regions adjacent to the border area, and the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs. On 9 February, the team visited some of the sites proposed for the relocation of the Mission, to assess their suitability to receive the relocating personnel and equipment. The team also attended a briefing organized by UNMEE for ambassadors from members of the Security Council and troop-contributing countries accredited to Ethiopia, and participated in a videoconference with UNMEE senior management based in Asmara and the United Nations Development Programme Resident Representative and Resident Coordinator for Eritrea, to discuss the relocation arrangements.

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