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               Asmara Skyline Project - Eritrea

Eritrea heeds UN advice; reopens road vital to peacekeepers
ASMARA, ERITREA, 10 Aug 2004 (IRIN) - The United Nations Mission to Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE), has welcomed a decision by the Eritrean government to reopen a supply route to the west of the country, which had been closed since March.

The Asmara-Keren-Barentu road was closed following accusations by the Eritrean government that UNMEE forces were using the road to illegally monitor its troop movements.

"UNMEE welcomes the decision of the government of Eritrea to open the road to UNMEE traffic," the mission said in a statement on Monday. "UNMEE feels that this step will further strengthen relations between the peacekeeping Mission and the Government."

The new UNMEE Force Commander, Maj-Gen Rajender Singh, was quoted in the statement, as saying the reopening of the road was a "positive step forward".

Maj-Gen Singh, who took office last month promising to enforce the highest standards of discipline, added: "This opening of the road will go a long way in facilitating both the movement of administrative and operational convoys which would help the mission to effectively carry out it duties towards fulfilment of its mandate."

It was not immediately possible to get a comment from the Eritrean government.

Relations between the UN and the government had soured this year, with Eritrea accusing the peacekeepers of illegal and immoral activities. Eritrea also refused to meet the UN Secretary-General's special envoy to the region.

The UN Mission, on the other hand, complained that some of their local staff had been detained, and the ability of the mission to fulfill its mandate constrained by restrictions on the movement of peacekeepers.

With the closure of the Asmara-Keren-Barentu road, the peacekeepers had to use a longer route, which they said would become impassable during the current rainy season.

UNMEE said that the restrictions had been maintained despite a UN Security Council resolution appealing to the Eritrean authorities to give UNMEE "the freedom of movement it needs to carry out its mandate".

Eritrean authorities however said UNMEE personnel travelled at night and registered plate numbers of vehicles belonging to the Eritrean Defence Forces, while others were engaged in the illegal trafficking of people, "duping female Eritreans", and making pornographic films. UNMEE dismissed the accusations as untrue.

Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a bloody two-and-a-half-year war over their 1,000-km border, ending in a peace accord signed in Algiers in 2000. Under the deal, an independent boundary commission was set up to defuse tensions by demarcating the border.

The commission issued its ruling in April 2002, but this was rejected by Ethiopia because it placed Badme, a symbolic border town over which the war had broken out, in Eritrea. The 4,200 UNMEE force was deployed to monitor the cessation of hostilities and to help ensure the observance of security commitments by the two countries.