Expressing deep concern about reports of military movements by Ethiopia and Eritrea, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today urged the two Horn of Africa countries to show maximum restraint and called on the Security Council, as well as individual Member States, "to take decisive steps to defuse the escalating tension."
The UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) reported movements of military personnel on both sides of the Temporary Security Zone (TSZ) and irregular activities inside the Zone, according to a statement released by Mr. Annan's spokesman. "Reported troop movements involve small and large military and paramilitary formations, and movement of armour, as well as aerial defence assets."
The Secretary-General strongly urged the parties to "exercise maximum restraint and to put an immediate halt to any actions that may be misinterpreted by the other side or jeopardize the security arrangements which they agreed to in the Agreement on the Cessation of Hostilities of 18 June 2000," the statement said.
At a press briefing, the head of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), Under-Secretary-General Jean-Marie Guéhenno, said peacekeeping operations could not substitute for a process, which, under the agreement that ended the two-year war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, included the demarcation of their common border.
UNMEE had a limited capacity to report on developments because of Eritrea's unexplained grounding of the mission's helicopters, he said, confirming that the UN had subsequently vacated 18 positions.
"It is essential at this stage, at a very fragile moment, that neither Eritrea nor Ethiopia make any movement that could be misunderstood by the other side and could lead to a very dangerous situation. This is a time to really bring the tension down," he said.
Asked what else the UN could do beside watch developments, he said, "The United Nations is as strong as its Member States want it to be."