U.N. abandons Eritrea-Ethiopia peace mission

UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously Wednesday to end its eight-year peacekeeping mission between Eritrea and Ethiopia.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has warned that failure of the mission could lead to a new war between the Horn of Africa neighbors.

Council members and other diplomats said the U.N. had little choice but to withdraw its 1,700-strong force that has been monitoring a 15-mile-wide, 620-mile-long buffer zone between the two nations.

The vote means the entire mission will be terminated on Thursday, Vietnam's U.N. ambassador, Le Luong Minh, told reporters after the vote.

Belgian Ambassador Jan Grauls told the council that the mission, known as UNMEE, "had become impossible to implement" because Eritreans progressively limited peacekeepers' movements -- including restricting night patrols, supply routes and diesel fuel -- and Ethiopians refused to accept an independent boundary commission's 2002 decision to award the key town of Badme to Eritrea.

"The border dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea remains total, and the United Nations is withdrawing without having been able to assist the two countries in finding a common ground, in spite of having tried all to achieve it," Grauls said.

Eritrea and Ethiopia have been feuding over their border since Eritrea gained independence in 1993 after a 30-year guerrilla war. The U.N. entered under a 2000 peace agreement that ended the 2½-year border war.

In a resolution drafted by Belgium, a former colonial power in Africa, the council said it regretted that Eritrea's "obstructions ... reached a level so as to undermine the basis of the mission's mandate" and forced peacekeepers to temporarily relocate, mainly on the Ethiopian side.

The resolution also called on Ethiopia to respect the boundary commission's decision and demanded that both nations comply with their previous agreement "to show maximum restraint and refrain from any threat or use of force against each other, and to avoid provocative military activities."

Ban warned in April that a new war could break out if peacekeepers were to withdraw entirely from along the disputed border, and urged Eritrea to restore the U.N.'s ability to patrol its side of the border.

Troops from both countries also exchanged gunfire several times in recent months, Ban said.

But already the $113 million annual peacekeeping mission had pulled most of its personnel from the Eritrean side; fewer than 200 peacekeepers had remained there, mainly to guard U.N. equipment until it could be removed.

In 2005, Eritrea banned U.N. helicopter flights in its airspace