Eritrea again closes major road to UN peacekeepers

Only a month ago Eritrea had reopened the Asmara-Keren-Barentu road north of the Temporary Security Zone (TSZ), after a five-month closure, in what the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) regarded as “a sign of good faith.”When it first closed the road, the main paved supply route to 1,500 UN peacekeepers in the western sector, Eritrea alleged illegal activity by UNMEE’s Finnish Guard Company escorting Mission convoys and said it was carrying out investigations.The move forced UNMEE to take a longer, mostly dirt route that is in very bad condition in some sections, doubling the previous 5½ hours needed for the journey, increasing wear and tear on its vehicle fleet and imposing extra costs.When Eritrea reopened the road in August, UNMEE spokesperson Gail Bindley-Taylor Sainte said that “this point for us the relationship looks positive,” noting that the Security Council had appealed to the Horn of Africa country to give the Mission “the freedom of movement it needs to carry out its mandate.”But by the end of August Eritrea informed the UN that the road would again be closed, and it was shut as of 1 September.Fighting between Eritrea and Ethiopia erupted in May 1998 over a border dispute. A Cessation of Hostilities agreement was signed in Algiers on 18 June 2000 and the Security Council set up UNMEE with a maximum military strength of 4,200 troops.

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