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  • Title: [SW News](IRIN) ETHIOPIA: Continuing offensive defies Security Council
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  • Date:  [Thursday 18 May 2000]

(IRIN) ETHIOPIA: Continuing offensive defies Security Council

HORN OF AFRICA: IRIN News Briefs, Thursday 18 May 2000
ETHIOPIA: Continuing offensive defies Security Council
Ethiopian troops on Thursday pushed deep into Eritrean territory on the
western front and took Barentu, the strategic regional town and supply
route, only hours after a UN Security Council imposed an arms embargo and
demanded that military engagement stop. Journalists taken to the frontline
reported that, despite calls to halt the war, Ethiopia was continuing the
offensive and sending in reinforcements, insisting it had the right to
"defend" its sovereignty.
Using helicopter gunships, fighter bombers and heavy artillery, Ethiopia now
controlled "much of the skies of the Western Mereb front without Eritrean
response", a BBC journalist reported from the territory. The journalist
reported seeing "mile upon mile of abandoned Eritrean trenches previously
heavily defended" high in the mountains. A new political dimension now
complicated what was previously essentially a border conflict, as Ethiopia
had to decide whether to hand back territorial gains or annex the territory,
the BBC report said.
ERITREA: War-affected civilians flee western advance
The Eritrean Relief and Refugee Committee said half a million people were
fleeing the Ethiopian advance, west of the country, creating a new
humanitarian crisis. Eritrean state radio accused Ethiopia of "intentionally
bombing and shelling civilian targets" in its massive offensive. The
Eritrean government has asked local UN officials to secure emergency
international aid for the civilians fleeing the Ethiopian advance.
Humanitarian sources said people affected by the advance included
war-affected displaced Eritreans living in temporary camps and Eritreans
expelled by the Ethiopian government from northern Ethiopia over the past
two years. Save the Children Fund (SCF) said the fighting threatened 15,000
children among the 80,000 inhabitants of camps for the displaced in the Gash
Barka region, west of Asmara, AFP reported.
The agency's director of emergency programmes, Bruce Macinnis, told AFP that
any interruption or delay in their feeding programme would "lead immediately
to a considerable rise in their malnutrition". He said food distribution was
likely to be hampered by the large number of trucks deployed in the war
effort and that efforts had been made to get trucks from available sources,
including Sudan. Local aid personnel working for international and
humanitarian agencies are being recruited for service, humanitarian sources
told IRIN.
Loss of territory acknowledged
"The civilian dimension of this is horrendous", Eritrean government
spokesman Yemane Ghebremeskel told AFP, but he claimed the military were
withstanding the assault, and making tactical withdrawals. The spokesman
admitted there was now "a very large area under the invasion of the
Ethiopian army" but claimed Eritrea had not suffered "significant
casualties" and had not lost "important military equipment", AFP reported.
ETHIOPIA-ERITREA: Security Council imposes arms embargo
In a unanimously adopted resolution, the UN Security Council imposed an arms
embargo on Ethiopia and Eritrea and demanded that both parties withdraw
forces from military engagement, and "take no action that would aggravate
tensions". It also demanded that peace talks under the OAU should be
reconvened "without preconditions" as soon as possible.
The arms embargo calls on all States to prevent the selling or supplying to
the two countries "by their nationals or from their territories, or using
their flag vessels or aircraft, of arms and related materiel of all types,
including weapons and ammunition, military vehicles and equipment,
paramilitary equipment and spare parts". The resolution also prevents "any
provision to those two countries by their nationals or from their
territories, of technical assistance or training related to the provision,
manufacture, maintenance or use of the above items."
Conditions of the UN arms embargo include strict monitoring. The resolution
requests States to report in detail to the Secretary-General within 30 days
of the date of adoption on "the specific steps they have taken to give
effect to the measures imposed". It also requires "all states, relevant
United Nations bodies and, as appropriate, other organisations and
interested parties to report information on possible violations" and to make
the information public.
The Secretary-General will report on the implementation of the arms embargo
and the humanitarian situation in the two countries every 60 days. During
the two-year conflict, journalists have reported both countries using
resident Russian nationals to train and fly sophisticated modern fighter
planes. Monitoring of abuses may be more difficult in Eritrea, which has
access to ports, unlike land-locked Ethiopia, diplomatic sources said.
The US-based Global Intelligence Update said the Ethiopian offensive was
unlikely to threaten Asmara, but may instead attempt "to divert the
defenders in the hope of creating a breach on the southeastern front, at the
town of Bure ... and seize the port of Assab, regaining access to the Red
Sea and its trading routes." It said Ethiopia, facing both drought and
famine, "has strong incentive to capture the port in advance of any peace
Major stockpiling undermines effect of embargo
Announcement of the arms embargo provoked criticism by some observers who
felt the Security Council had waited too long to take action against a war
that is considered the largest in Africa, in terms of troop numbers and
sophisticated weaponry. A regional analyst told IRIN that the arms embargo
would make little difference to the two countries, which had spent the last
two years buying sophisticated ground and air weaponry.
They said the effect of the resolution was mainly "a poke in the eye". Horn
of Africa commentator Patrick Gilkes told the BBC that the embargo would not
have a significant effect. The embargo would mean the two countries "may
have to pay a bit more, but they have got what they need at the moment", he
said. He attributed the success of the Ethiopian offensive partly to the
fact that Ethiopia's build-up of weaponry had been "a little bit bigger",
but mainly to the element of surprise. Ethiopia attacked on the Western
front and seized Barentu, instead of moving on the already established Mereb
front. Gilkes said the Ethiopians were likely to use the new territory as "a
bargaining chip".
SUDAN: Fears of new refugee influx from Eritrea-Ethiopia fighting

UNHCR has signed an agreement with the governments of Sudan and Eritrea for
the planned repatriation of some of these refugees
Sudan has called for international aid to deal with an expected new wave of
refugees from the fighting between Eritrea and Ethiopia, a Sudanese
newspaper reported on Thursday. Al-Ayam said that Ibrahim Mahmoud Hamid,
governor of Kassala state, which is on the Eritrean border, had appealed to
the UNHCR to take emergency measures to deal with the problem.
It quoted Hamid as saying that the state did not have sufficient resources
to provide food and shelter for the potential influx and asked for
international aid organisations to make preparations to receive the
A UNHCR spokesman told IRIN he was not aware of any new influx of refugees
into Sudan as a result of the fighting. Before the latest fighting, there
were some 160,000 Eritrean refugees in Sudan, most of them in Kassala state.
The majority had been there since before 1991, when Eritrea won its
independence. Last month, UNHCR signed an agreement with the governments of
Sudan and Eritrea for the planned repatriation of some of these refugees.
The plan had provided for the return of 10,000 to 15,000 people by
Khartoum accuses SPLM of sabotaging IGAD peace talks
Following the official postponement of the IGAD peace talks, scheduled to
take place in the Kenyan capital Nairobi from 17-23 May, the Sudanese
government issued a statement on Thursday accusing the rebel Sudan People's
Liberation Movement (SPLM) of sabotaging the peace process. The postponement
of the talks followed Monday's announcement by the SPLM that it was
suspending its participation because of what it called "reckless bombing" of
civilian targets in SPLM-controlled areas of southern Sudan, the Nuba
mountains and eastern Sudan.
The government statement denied that its forces were engaged in aerial
attacks on civilian areas. It said areas of engagement between government
forces and rebels were taking place only where no civilians were residing.
In such areas it said "legitimate weapons" were being used since "there are
no civilians at risk".
The statement accused the SPLM of attempting to shroud its real intentions,
which were to fight. "The SPLM/SPLA opted for thwarting and sabotaging this
unique peace opportunity, an option which was evidently not adopted with a
view to serving the interests of the civilian population," the statement
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