|Eritrea eases movement restrictions on U.N. troops |
ASMARA, ERITREA, Aug 9, (Reuters) - Eritrea has relaxed travel restrictions imposed on U.N. peacekeepers, the United Nations said on Monday, a move that will ease strained relations between the U.N. mission and the Horn of Africa country.
Eritrea barred U.N. troops from the main road linking the capital Asmara to Barentu in the southwest in March after accusing them of illegally monitoring Eritrean troop movements.
Relations between Eritrea and the U.N. Mission to Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) soured further in May when the government accused the regional U.N. force patrolling Eritrea's border with its giant neighbour Ethiopia of a string of misdemeanours.
The Eritrean official responsible for coordinating with the peacekeeping mission was not available for comment on a U.N. statement on the reopening of the road to the peacekeepers.
"This opening of the road will go a long way in facilitating the movement of administrative and operational convoys which would help the Mission to effectively carry out its duties towards the fulfilment of its mandate," the U.N. said.
"UNMEE feels this step will further strengthen relations between the peacekeeping mission and the government," it added.
Diplomats in Asmara said it was no coincidence that the road was reopened shortly after the appointment of a new commander of the U.N.'s peacekeeping force.
Major-General Robert Gordon, a British officer known for his straight talking, was replaced last month by Major-General Rajender Singh, an Indian.
On taking command of the 4,000-strong force, Singh said "ill discipline has no place in the U.N. system", a reference to Eritrean allegations of pornograpy, paedophilia and disrespect of the national currency, directed at the peacekeeping mission.
The U.N. peacekeepers patrol a 15 mile (25 km) buffer zone along the unmarked 600 mile (1,000 km) frontier between Ethiopia and Eritrea, over which the two neighbours fought a bloody two-year war in which 70,000 people were killed.
The reopening of the road will give the U.N. better access to 900 peacekeepers, mostly Jordanians, who monitor the most contentious western sector of the buffer zone.
An agreement signed in Algiers in 2000 ended the conflict, but demarcation of the disputed border has been indefinitely postponed since Ethiopia rejected an independent ruling on where the line should be drawn. Jonah Fisher