Eritrea's expulsion order for some U.N. staff threatens the entire peacekeeping mission along the country's border with Ethiopia as concerns deepen that the two nations could return to war, a senior U.N. official said Thursday.
Eritrea has given the U.N. mission's North American and European staff 10 days to leave, a demand the U.N. has rejected. Eritrea has offered no explanation for the order.
A preliminary assessment of the order's effect on the U.N. mission showed it would threaten supplies, transport and communications, said Joel Adechi, the mission's deputy head, via video link from the Eritrean capital, Asmara.
The order could affect 180 of the mission's 3,300 personnel, Adechi said Thursday. That would include staffers from 18 of the 44 countries that make up the force.
"The reason for the assessment we are conducting now is to find out how we will be able to carry out our tasks if those people have to leave," Adechi said. "At the end of the assessment we will be able to see if we are able to function like this or what other measures need to be taken."
On Wednesday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and his top peacekeeping official rejected the Eritrean order, saying it violates Eritrea's obligations under the U.N. Charter.
The Security Council called Eritrea's order "completely unacceptable" and said members will be consulting on how to respond.
The departure orders come amid mounting concern that war could again erupt between Eritrea and Ethiopia, which have been massing troops near the border.
Jean-Marie Guehenno, the U.N. undersecretary-general for peacekeeping, said Wednesday that the demand appeared to be connected to Eritrea's continuing anger that Ethiopia has not accepted a border agreement from 2002.
The Eritrean move was only the latest against peacekeepers there. On October 5, the government banned helicopter flights by U.N. peacekeepers in its airspace in a buffer zone with Ethiopia. It then banned U.N. vehicles from patrolling at night on its side of the zone, prompting the U.N. to vacate 18 of its 40 posts.
Despite repeated appeals from the Security Council and the secretary-general, Eritrea has refused to lift these restrictions, the AP reports.