UN appeals on behalf of international demining groups

The UN has urged the Eritrean government to extend a deadline for all international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) involved in demining activities to cease their work by the end of this month.

UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said a UN delegation - headed by Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Eritrea Simon Nhongo, and Chief of the UN Mine Action Service Martin Barber - had met President Isayas Afewerki to press the demand. The meeting follows a joint appeal by the UN Secretariat, the United Nations Children's Fund and the UN Development Programme for the deadline to be extended.

Eritrean sources told IRIN the government was unhappy with the procedures of some NGOs involved in mine action.

"We very much regret that Eritrea insists on its decision to exclude the international NGOs from mine action," Eckhard said on Wednesday. "This will no doubt result in a significant loss of human and material capacity in this vital area."

He said the UN delegation sought to assure the Eritrean president of the effectiveness of NGO operations in mine action. They asked for the deadline to be extended so that an "appropriate transition strategy" could be worked out with the government.

According to Eckhard, Isayas "reaffirmed his decision to have them [NGOs] end their operations by the end of the month".