A day after another U.S. primary, and as the partition of northern Kosovo becomes more likely by the hour, the collapse of the peacekeeping mission along the Ethiopia-Eritrea border is understandably getting scant attention. This is unfortunate, because the crisis facing the UN mission there is one of the more disturbing developments facing UN peacekeeping a long while.

What happened is this: For weeks, the government of Eritrea has made it increasingly difficult for the mission, UNMEE, to access diesel. With its fuel stocks dangerously low, the mission decided to relocate to the Ethiopian side of the border. The Eritrean military, however, has blocked them from reaching the border. Two flatbeds carrying APCs and a number of personnel are currently being detained and harassed by Eritrean militia in a remote border crossing. Meanwhile, the rest of the 1,400 strong UNMEE has decided to “regroup” in the Eritrean capitol, Asmara.

Ethiopia is not with out reproach. The Eritrean hostility toward UNMEE stems in large part from an Eritrean perception that the international community is not doing enough to force Ethiopia to abide by binding arbitration which awarded a disputed border town to Eritrea. Nevertheless, nothing can justify this kind out outright harassment of UN peacekeepers. The international community must come down hard against this kind of behavior — the precedent that it sets for other peacekeeping missions is frankly dangerous. Flagrant violations of the accepted rules of peacekeeping cannot be allowed to go unpunished.

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