Eritrea + 1 more

Progress report of the Secretary-General on Ethiopia and Eritrea (S/2007/250)

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I. Introduction

1. The present report is submitted pursuant to operative paragraph 13 of Security Council resolution 1741 (2007) of 30 January 2007, in which the Council requested me to include in my next report details of the progress made towards the implementation of this resolution and of the Delimitation Decision of the Eritrea- Ethiopia Boundary Commission of 13 April 2002. The report also provides an update on the activities of the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) since my last report (S/2007/33), of 22 January 2007, and covers the situation until 22 April 2007.

II. Recent developments

Military situation

2. During the reporting period, the military situation in the Temporary Security Zone and the adjacent areas has remained tense and volatile. Troops of Eritrean Defence Forces (EDF) that entered the Zone in Sector West in October 2006, along with tanks, artillery and air defence equipment, have remained in the areas of Maileba and Om Hajer. Moreover, EDF has continued to deploy additional troops in Sector West along the Tesseney-Maileba-Om Hajer, Barentu-Kerkese-Shambiko and Tukul-Mulki-Shambiko axes. According to UNMEE observations, Eritrea has deployed over 2,000 troops and some 1,200 militia in Sector West, accompanied by 16 tanks, 2 multiple-barrel rocket launcher systems and 7 air defence guns. In the meantime, the deployment of EDF elements in Sector Centre, which began in late December 2006, has also continued along the Adi Keyh-Keskesse-Senafe, Mai Aini-Tsorena and Mendefera-Dirko-Mereb bridge axes. Latest estimates suggest that approximately 1,700 suspected EDF elements have been deployed to Sector Centre. Since their entry into the Zone, EDF troops have been strengthening defence lines, particularly in the areas of Om Hajer and Shilalo in Sector West, and in the areas of Tsorena and Italian Fort in Sector Centre. In addition, Eritrea has deployed around 6 anti-aircraft guns around the area of Assab Airport in Subsector East.

3. At the same time, Ethiopia has progressively increased its military presence near the southern boundary of the Temporary Security Zone by moving forward heavy equipment and military personnel, particularly in Sector West and Subsector East. As observed by UNMEE in Sector West, the Ethiopian Armed Forces (EAF) has deployed around 1,200 troops, 18 artillery guns, 4 120-mm mortars and 3 multiple-barrel rocket launcher systems, about 7 km from the southern boundary of the Zone in the area of Rawiyan, opposite from Om Hajer, and 16 artillery guns around the area of Adi Takalo. In addition, since 12 February, UNMEE has observed the deployment of 3 anti-aircraft guns, 3 vehicle-mounted rocket launchers, 17 artillery guns and 12 tanks in the vicinity of Bure, in Subsector East, within 3 to 5 km of the southern boundary of the Zone.

4. On 23 March, the Ethiopian authorities contacted UNMEE, asserting that Eritrea had recently moved additional tanks and heavy artillery into the Temporary Security Zone in the area of Om Hajer, in Sector West. However, UNMEE could not confirm these reports because of its considerably reduced monitoring capability, resulting from the restrictions imposed by Eritrea on the freedom of movement of its personnel in that Sector. Subsequently, between 5 and 10 April, UNMEE reported additional major EAF movements of troops, mortars, guns, ammunition and logistics equipment in the areas of Shiraro and Humera, and along the Inda Beguna- Adi Daro-Nebrid axis in Sector West, near the southern boundary of the Zone.

5. Despite increased military activities by both parties, the reporting period witnessed a perceptible reduction in cross-border incidents. However, on a number of occasions, UNMEE posts at critical locations had to diffuse tense situations along the border and investigate reports of cross-border incidents that included cattlerustling and the repatriation of persons who inadvertently cross the border. While both parties have publicly maintained that they do not intend to resume hostilities, their increased military activities on the ground are consistent with possible preparations for a confrontation.

6. The kidnapping in early March 2007 by unknown assailants of five foreign and eight Ethiopian nationals, in the northern Afar desert of Ethiopia near the southern boundary of the Temporary Security Zone, has further exacerbated tension between the two countries. The foreign nationals and their Ethiopian escorts were released on 12 March and 23 April, respectively.