Addis denies airport checks violate accord with UN

Ethiopia has rejected accusations by UN peacekeepers that certain restrictions applied by Addis Ababa violate an agreement signed by both sides.

Staff of the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) now have to undergo normal immigration procedures by showing their passports at Addis Ababa airport and they can be subject to searches. UNMEE says that under a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), Ethiopia agreed that the peacekeepers should have unhindered freedom of movement to carry out their mission.

Ethiopia's State Minister for Information Netsannet Asfaw told IRIN on Monday that the restrictions were put in place "until the UN can restore confidence". Ethiopia was furious when UNMEE recently took a group of journalists to the disputed town of Badme via the Eritrean capital Asmara. The bitter border war with Eritrea flared up in the small town of Badme in May 1998.

After the visit, Ethiopia demanded that the UNMEE force Commander, Major-General Patrick Cammaert, be removed from his post.

“I don’t know why they are saying we have violated this agreement,” Netsannet said. “We were forced to take these measures because they took journalists into Ethiopian territory pretending they were UNMEE personnel.

“The major-general must have known about this or he is not on top of his job. Either way, what are they trying to imply by taking people to Badme via Eritrea?”

Ethiopia does not consider the airport checks to be a breach of the SOFA agreement. "The airport checks are in place," a foreign ministry spokesman told IRIN. "This is a regular way of doing things so there is no need to lift them."

On Friday, UNMEE acting spokeswoman Gail Bindley-Taylor Sainte said: “We have agreements on freedom of movement under the SOFA."

"If you restrict our movement, then it automatically means you are in violation of those aspects of the SOFA,” she said.

The Special Representative to the Secretary General (SRSG), Legwaila Joseph Legwaila, who heads UNMEE, has been holding talks with Ethiopian foreign ministry officials to try and resolve the issue. “He says that we are making slow progress on the question of the restrictions,” Sainte added.