|UNMEE force chief leaves Eritrea "sad and disappointed" |
By Jonah Fisher
ADI GUADAD, Eritrea, July 23 (Reuters) - The British commander of the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) handed over to his successor on Friday, saying he was sad and disappointed that demarcation of the border between the East African countries had not taken place.
Major-General Robert Gordon commanded the 4,000-strong peacekeeping force for 21 months before handing control of the multinational force to India's Major-General Rajender Singh.
The U.N. mission's relations with its Eritrean hosts are strained, and no senior government official attended the handover ceremony.
Paedophilia, pornography, immorality and disrespect of the national currency have been alleged by Eritrea against the peacekeepers. The mission's movements were also restricted after Eritrea accused it of illegally monitoring its troop movements.
"UNMEE is a success and will continue to be so," Gordon said at a handover ceremony outside the Eritrean capital Asmara.
"I know we will eventually see a successful conclusion to this mission."
UNMEE's mandate was intended to be a short one but Ethiopia's refusal to accept a ruling on the demarcation of a 1,000 km-long (600 mile) common border with its smaller neighbour Eritrea has brought the process to a standstill.
"Ill discipline has no place in the U.N. system," Singh said. "We must continue our commitment to fulfilling our mandate in the highest traditions of the United Nations."
With Ethiopia having rejected the ruling on where the border should lie, U.N. officials are assessing how they can cut the $200 million a year cost of what was originally intended to be a short term mission.
The main countries contributing to UNMEE are India, Jordan, Kenya, Bangladesh, Finland, Uruguay and Italy since it was established in 2000 to patrol a 25 km (16 mile) wide buffer zone between the two countries and oversee the demarcation of their border.
The two countries fought a 1998-2000 war over the small Ethiopian-run border town of Badme. An Algiers agreement in 2000 ended the conflict, in which around 70,000 people were killed.
The border demarcation was indefinitely postponed after Ethiopia rejected the border ruling in which Badme was adjudged part of Eritrea. Under peace accords both sides had agreed that the commission's ruling would be binding.
International efforts to achieve a breakthrough have focused on the mission of Lloyd Axworthy, a Canadian former foreign minister who was appointed U.N. envoy to the peace process in December 2003. Ethiopian leaders have held talks with Axworthy but Eritrea has said it will not meet him.