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SECURITY COUNCIL EXTENDS MISSION IN ERITREA, ETHIOPIA UNTIL 15 SEPTEMBER UNANIMOUSLY ADOPTING RESOLUTION 1531 (2004) 12 Mar 20
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ERITREA: Interview with UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]


Martti Ahtisaari, UN Special Envoy for the Humanitarian Crisis in the Horn of Africa -
IRIN

NAIROBI, 18 Oct 2004 (IRIN) - Martti Ahtisaari is the United Nations Special Envoy for the Humanitarian Crisis in the Horn of Africa. Following a three-day visit to Eritrea, he spoke with IRIN on Sunday about the crisis affecting the country, the impact of the unresolved border stand-off with Ethiopia and the urgent need for funding to tackle development issues.

QUESTION: What is the current situation in Eritrea as you see it?

ANSWER: The situation is difficult. When you look at the country you have to look at the macro-economic situation. At the moment you have a 'no war no peace' situation. You have a drought that has lasted four years and the country has serious macro-economic imbalances.

Q: What are those imbalances?

A: At the moment inflation is around 27 percent, the country's foreign reserves are so depleted that they are enough for two weeks' imports. And the budget deficit is around 20 percent of the GDP. There is very little room for manoeuvre and it is very much a hand-to-mouth operation, in that government and the responsible ministers have to sift resources within the availability of those resources to meet the emergency needs. They want to put money into infrastructure and they want to improve education and the health sector.

Q: What has been the international response, Is enough being done?

A: The international community's response has been fairly good. If one asks the government, donors are never doing enough. What has clearly improved since I started going is the cooperation between the donors and the government. There was no full dialogue. It is perhaps because now there is a Ministry for National Development and very professional people man it. But there are eight professionals in the ministry. My non-governmental organization in Finland has 14. So there are capacity issues even if they work 24 hours a day.

Q: Given these limitations, what more can the Eritreans can do?

A: I think they are trying to make the best use of the resources available. There are challenges as well for those who are internally displaced because of the war [the 1998-2000 border conflict with Ethiopia]. There is an urgent need to get funding for these people so they can get back to their villages that unfortunately were destroyed. The donors are interested in the education sector. The government is working hard to get support from the African Development Bank. So, slowly it is moving forward.

Q: What is the impact of the unresolved border issue with Ethiopia?

A: It has a lot of impact. It has an effect because the demobilisation process is not proceeding with the speed that it could if that issue was out of the way. They will have demobilised by the end of the year 100,000 people. There may be another 100,000 still to be demobilised.

Q: Eritrea has been criticised for its human rights record. Is that playing a role in the situation?

A: I have seen it in a number of countries where to come out of a war situation to normalcy is a difficult process. Whether it is a liberation struggle or a difficult type of struggle, it is perhaps one of the most undemocratic phases in the history of a society. And to come from there all of a sudden, more transparent, more open, respecting human rights, is a process. And I have come to the conclusion that state building from the outside is a very difficult notion. We have seen it in other parts of the world and are witnessing it today on another continent. It is a slow process and you first of all have to create more work for a population.

Q: Are these criticisms making donors reluctant to contribute?

A: I must congratulate the donors and thank them. Even if sometimes the donors are criticised for politicising aid, when it comes to humanitarian assistance that has not happened. Countries that are very keen on promoting human rights have not prevented the assistance coming. Letís concentrate on the developmental challenges because they are big enough.

Q: What have been the positive trends in Eritrea since you took up your position?

A: Cooperation and inclusion for the donor community, which is very important. We have started something that has been going on in Ethiopia for a much longer time, but it is very important to carry the donors with you.

Q: What impact have you had?

A: In general my role is rather marginal. It is supportive of the trends the UN country team are pushing because people on the ground do the main work. They have done some good work. There may be some bottlenecks that I can raise easier than the UN country team can.

[ENDS]

 

 
  
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