Reservist heads to Eritrea
with a mission to uphold border truce
“My job will be
to actually spend time traveling the border, going to 16 primary sites and
making sure that both sides are abiding by the peace agreement,” Lt. Col. James
Monday, July 26,
2004 — Lt. Col.
James Elliott was trained in the 1970s to be a Cold War warrior. The Army taught
him to fight against America’s archenemies — Communist China and the Soviet
politics has changed dramatically in the past 25 years. Still, Elliott, 53, of
Bangor, finds it ironic that he will spend the next six to eight months serving
side by side with soldiers he once considered his foes.
left on Sunday to join a United Nations peacekeeping mission in Eritrea, a
country the size of Pennsylvania, in eastern Africa. The two officers of equal
rank that he will work most closely with are from China and Russia.
think it’s going to be a blast,” Elliott said Friday. “That’s how we pull the
world together and get a better understanding of each other.”
math and science teacher for the Maine Department of Corrections at the Mountain
View Youth Development Center in Charleston, Elliott learned he would be going
to Africa a month ago. An Army reservist since 1982, Elliott has not been
overseas in 20 years.
will be part of a multi-national force that includes 4,500 soldiers from 20
other nations. While based in the capital, Asmara, Elliott will oversee
soldiers patrolling the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia.
job will be to actually spend time traveling the border, going to 16 primary
sites and making sure that both sides are abiding by the peace agreement,”
Elliott said Friday. “On a daily basis, I’ll review all reports that come in
from our 220 observers, filter them, then brief the force commander, a two-star
as an Italian colony in the 19th century, Eritrea was awarded to Ethiopia in
1952 as part of a federation, according the World Fact Book’s Web site.
Ethiopia’s annexation of Eritrea as a province 10 years later sparked a 30-year
struggle for independence that ended in 1991 with Eritrean rebels defeating
was approved in a 1993 referendum, which left Eritrea with the border on the
Red Sea; Ethiopia was landlocked. A 2½-year border war erupted in 1998. Eritrea
currently hosts a U.N. peacekeeping operation that is monitoring a
15½-mile-wide Temporary Security Zone on the border.
Elliott was packing to leave, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan released a
report on the con-tinued strained relationship between the two nations.
warned that their stalemate was a source of instability in the region and could
have potentially devastating results, the Addis Tribune, a newspaper based in
Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, reported Friday.
am concerned that a relatively minor incident — one even of miscalculation —
could degenerate into a very serious situation, which no one would wish for and
which would be tragic for all concerned,” Annan reportedly said.
however, was not talking as if he was entering a potential war zone.
said Friday that in addition to his wife, Barbara, an administrator with
Eastern Maine Medical Center, and his son, James, who leaves for Army boot camp
next month, he will miss Maine’s colorful fall season. As an educator, he also
expressed excitement about visiting schools and the university in Eritrea.
a pretty gregarious guy,” he said. “I going to be kind of like a sponge and
just soak up what’s there.”