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Wednesday, 2 October, 2002, 17:10 GMT 18:10 UK
UN bows to Ethiopia over force chief
Ethiopian tank
The border war ended with a tense ceasefire

The UN is to appoint a new commander for its peacekeeping mission on the Ethiopia-Eritrea border.

This follows increasing pressure from the Ethiopian Government to replace the current commander, Major-General Patrick Cammaert, who has been unofficially declared persona non grata by Ethiopia.

The 4,200 strong UN peacekeeping force has been stationed in the region since September 2000, to oversee a cease-fire between Ethiopia and Eritrea, following their two and a half year border war.

UN peacekeeping force
UN peacekeepers are not trusted by Ethiopia

The force commander oversees the military wing of the operation.

It is expected that the UN will announce the appointment of a British general, Robert Gordon, by 28 October.

The UN decision comes after six months of increasingly difficult relations between the UN and Ethiopia, with Addis Ababa accusing General Cammaert of "political bias" in favour of Eritrea.

However, the UN is denying it bowed to Ethiopian pressure for a new commander, saying General Cammaert did not quit ahead of time and served a full two-year tour of duty.

Border closed to peacekeepers

It has been a difficult six months for the UN peacekeeping mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (Unmee).

General Cammaert has been virtually prevented for carrying out his duties since Ethiopia unofficially made him person non grata.

In April, Ethiopia closed its to the UN peacekeepers stationed at the border for 10 days.

They demanded the removal of General Cammaert, a Dutch soldier, accusing him of "political bias".

Ethiopian officials accused him of "deliberately trying to humiliate" Ethiopia.

Addis Ababa says that the UN violated the agreement under which the peacekeepers are stationed on the border by driving foreign journalists from Eritrea into the western frontier village of Badme, which both countries claim but which is currently under Ethiopian administration.

Ethiopia said that by crossing the border from Eritrea into the Ethiopian village without prior permission, the UN was implying that Badme was Eritrean.


The Ethiopia authorities accused the UN force commander of orchestrating the whole affair.

Officials said the force commander was "pro-Eritrean", adding that this was "not acceptable for a UN peacekeeping mission, which was mandated with the responsibility of being neutral".

Since April, Maj-Gen Cammaert has not been to Ethiopia - nor held discussions or any meetings with Ethiopian military or government officials, rendering him ineffective in half of the UN's mission area.

The military co-ordination commission (MCC), the only meeting where both Ethiopian and Eritrean military officials gather to facilitate the peace process between the two countries, has not convened since March as Ethiopia refused to attend if the force commander chaired the meeting.

Ethiopia has also placed restrictions, such as the compulsory showing of passports, frisking of personnel and the use of the international lounge rather than the domestic lounge at the airport for all UN peacekeepers arriving in Addis Ababa.

Apology not good enough

Officials say that there has to be "trust between Ethiopia and Unmee" before restrictions on UN personnel are lifted.

Eritrean soldiers
The end of the war has left suspicion on both sides
The UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, expressed full confidence in General Cammaert, but after pressure from Addis Ababa, the UN apologised for what it called "a serious mistake".

Unmee appealed to Ethiopia to reconsider their decision, but Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi refused.

One official said: "We want smooth relations with Unmee, but an apology is not good enough for what they have done.

"This is not a simple mistake and something has to be done to ensure that it doesn't happen again."

The predicted new force commander, Major General Robert Gordon, is presently commander of the British Army in northern England and Scotland.

He previously led a brigade which served in Bosnia as part of the UN peacekeeping mission in 1994.

Border decision




See also:

21 Feb 02 | Africa
01 Jul 02 | Africa
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