Statement by the Minister for Defence, Mr. Michael Smith, T.D., to the Select Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Womens' Rights on the Motion before Dail Eireann seeking approval for the despatch of a contingent of the Permanent Defence Force for service with the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE)
Decision of the Government in relation to UNMEE
On 18 July, 2001, the Government authorised me, as Minister for Defence, to
(1) arrange for the despatch of a contingent of the Permanent Defence Force for service with the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) for a period of one year from December 2001 and
(2) to move a resolution in Dail Eireann approving the despatch of a contingent of the Permanent Defence Force for service with UNMEE.
The Government further authorised me to make appropriate budgetary provision, in consultation with the Minister for Finance, for the funding of the contingent.
Pursuant to this authority the following motion has been placed on the Order Paper for Dail Eireann:
"That Dáil Éireann approves the despatch, pursuant to section 2 of the Defence (Amendment) (No.2) Act, 1960, as applied by the Defence (Amendment) Act, 1993, of a contingent of the Permanent Defence Force for service with the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE), established under UN Security Council Resolutions 1312 of 31 July, 2000, and 1320 of 15 September, 2000."
In commending this Motion I would like to outline the background to the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) and the reason the Government decided to respond positively to the invitation from the United Nations to provide a contingent.
The present troubles in Ethiopia and Eritrea have been ongoing since 1998 when fighting erupted as part of a border dispute. Strenuous efforts were made by the United Nations and the Organisation for African Unity (OAU) to have a settlement reached between Ethiopia and Eritrea and in June 2000, proximity talks between the two countries culminated in the signing of the Agreement on Cessation of Hostilities between Ethiopia and Eritrea by the Foreign Ministers of both countries. The Agreement committed the parties to an immediate cessation of hostilities.Under the Agreement, the parties called upon the United Nations, in co-operation with OAU, to establish a peacekeeping operation to assist in the implementation of the Agreement.
On 31 July, 2000, the United Nations Security Council, under Resolution 1312, established the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) consisting of up to 100 military observers and the necessary civilian support staff in anticipation of a peacekeeping operation subject to future authorisation. Under Resolution 1320 of 15 September, 2000, the Security Council authorised the deployment within UNMEE of up to 4,200 troops until 15 March, 2001. On the latter date, the Security Council by its resolution 1344 extended UNMEE's mandate at the previously authorised levels of troops and military observers until 15 September, 2001. Resolution 1369 of 14 September, 2001, extended the mandate for a further six months until 15 March, 2002.
In the meantime, further negotiations between the parties resulted in the signing on 12 December, 2000, in Algiers of a Comprehensive Peace Agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea under which the parties undertook to permanently terminate military hostilities between themselves and to refrain from the threat or use of force against each other.
On 15 June, 2001, in the context of the withdrawal of the Irish Contingent from the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), the UN formally invited Ireland to contribute a Guard and Administration Company of about 150 Defence Forces personnel to serve with UNMEE at the Force HQ in Asmara, Eritrea, with effect from 11 December, 2001, for a minimum period of 12 months.
African conflict prevention and conflict resolution issues comprise over 50% of the UN Security Council's agenda. The Government consider that Ireland, as a member of the Council and a longstanding contributor to UN peacekeeping, should participate where possible in suitable peace support operations in Sub-Saharan Africa. The UNMEE operation in Ethiopia/Eritrea offers a suitable opportunity for such participation particularly in light of the imminent withdrawal of the Irish contingent deployed with UNIFIL as well as the Defence Forces' strong tradition of and expertise in missions of this nature.
This is the broad background against which the Government have agreed in principle, subject to the approval of the Dail, that Ireland should participate in UNMEE.
Current situation in Ethiopia and Eritrea
Since the signing of the Algiers Agreement in December, 2000, considerable progress has been achieved. With the exception of some isolated incidents, Ethiopia and Eritrea have complied with their commitment to keep the peace. The formal establishment of the Temporary Security Zone (TSZ) on 18 April, 2001, the full deployment of UNMEE and the establishment of two commissions, one on border demarcation and the other on compensation for war damages are particularly significant achievements.
A number of issues, however, remain outstanding. These include: restrictions of free movement and access for UNMEE within and around the TSZ on the Eriterean side; the presence of large numbers of militia and police in the TSZ, which makes UNMEE's work more difficult and dangerous; Eritrea's failure to date to sign the Status of Force's Agreement; the lack of agreement from Ethiopia and Eritrea on the establishment of a high level air corridor between the two capital cities; the lack of progress regarding the release of POWs on both sides and the identification of minefields with the inherent threat of mine accidents. The UN is confident, however, that these issues will be overcome and does not believe that they pose a fundamental threat to the peace process.
The internal political situation in Eritrea has, however, deteriorated in recent months. The Government have arrested a number of so-called "reformers", and imposed restrictions on the independent press. When the EU protested to the Government, the Ambassador of Italy, who was the local EU Presidency (Belgium does not have a resident Embassy in Asmara), and who delivered the protest on behalf of the EU, was expelled. Eritrea has claimed that the move was not connected to the EU protest, and was simply a bilateral issue with Italy, and not with the EU. The EU does not believe this explanation, however, as the timing of the expulsion order was extremely poor. Eritrea has refused to reinstate the Italian Ambassador, and relations with the EU have become frayed.
UNMEE is a traditional UN peacekeeping mission of the Chapter VI ( i.e. of the UN Charter) nature. The mandate of UNMEE as stated in Resolution 1320 and extended under Resolution 1344, is to:-
(a) Monitor the cessation of hostilities;
(b) Assist, as appropriate, in ensuring the observance of the security commitments agreed by the parties;
(c) Monitor and verify the redeployment of Ethiopian troops from positions taken after 6 February, 1999, which were not under Ethiopian administration before 6 May, 1998;
(d) Monitor the positions of Ethiopian forces once redeployed;
(e) Simultaneously, monitor the positions of Eritrean forces that are to redeploy in order to remain at a distance of 25 kilometres from positions to which Ethiopian forces shall redeploy;
(f) Monitor the Temporary Security Zone (TSZ) to assist in ensuring compliance with the Agreement on Cessation of Hostilities;
(g) Chair the Military Coordination Commission (MCC) to be established by the United Nations and the Organization of African Unity in accordance with the Agreement on Cessation of Hostilities;
(h) Coordinate and provide technical assistance for humanitarian mine action activities in the TSZ and areas adjacent to it; and,
(i) Coordinate the Mission's activities in the TSZ and areas adjacent to it with humanitarian and human rights activities of the United Nations and other organizations in those areas.
Countries participating in UNMEE
The strength of UNMEE at 30 September, 2001, was as follows:
military observers 215; troops 3,705. There are currently some 45 countries contributing military personnel to the mission. The Force Commander is Major General Patrick C. Cammaert (Netherlands) who was appointed on 25 October, 2000.
Irish participation in UNMEE
As I mentioned earlier, on 15 June, 2001, in the context of the withdrawal of the Irish Contingent from the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), the UN formally invited Ireland to contribute a Guard and Administration Company of about 150 Defence Forces personnel to serve with UNMEE at the Force HQ in Asmara, Eritrea, with effect from 11 December, 2001, for a minimum period of 12 months.
In response to a separate request from the UN, two members of the Defence Forces were deployed to the mission in June, 2001, to take up staff appointments in UNMEE Force HQ in Asmara, Eritrea. Following further requests from the UN in September, 2001, six more members of the Defence Forces will take up staff appointments in UNMEE Force HQ in November, 2001.
A Defence Forces team undertook a fact-finding visit to the mission area during July, 2001, to decide matters such as the precise role of the Defence Forces within UNMEE and the size of contingent needed to discharge that role, as well as the equipment required. The size of the contingent is now estimated at 209 personnel (The French contingent, which the Defence Forces contingent will replace, comprised some 187 personnel initially but was increased to 218 personnel in light of expanded taskings). A security assessment was also carried out taking account of the situation on the ground at the time.
It is envisaged that the deployment of the Irish contingent to UNMEE will take place with a view to being operational on 11 December, 2001, and subject to the extension of the mandate it is envisaged that one rotation of personnel would occur in June, 2002. I am of the view that Defence Forces involvement in UNMEE should not exceed one year in duration.
With regard to the role of the Irish Contingent, which will be based in Asmara, Eritrea, it is proposed that the Defence Forces personnel will carry out the following tasks :
a. Provide Signals Technical Support to UNMEE HQ from Component resources.
b. Provide perimeter defence and internal security for UNMEE HQ building, Five Stars Camp and Staff Officers Camp (former Danish Camp).
c. Provide Security for convoys and escort of key personnel/VIP's.
d. Provide Transport Services for Headquarters Staff including:
- Despatch Services
- On call transport of UNMEE staff on official duty and during duty hours (taxi service), in ASMARA.
- Bus shuttle system
e. Provide Tactical mobile command post. It should be protected and have radio communications.
f. Provide Catering and accommodation facilities for transit personnel.
g. Provide manning of military staff message centre to register and contribute incoming/outgoing military correspondence.
h. Provide level one Military Police for the Irish Component, and liaison with Force military police unit.
i. Provide military staff and general administrative support to UNMEE.
Increasingly, in the case of peace support operations, humanitarian tasks go hand in hand with military tasks. I am pleased that the Defence Forces have embraced these tasks with willingness and enthusiasm. I have seen for myself, at first hand, the fruits of their endeavors in Lebanon in the Orphanage at Tibnin, in Sarajevo, where they undertook the reconstruction of homes which had been burnt out in the conflict, and in East Timor in regard to their involvement with a local school. I would envisage a humanitarian dimension to the Defence Forces involvement with UNMEE also.
When a Defence Forces team undertook a fact-finding visit to the mission area during July, 2001, a security assessment was also carried out taking account of the situation on the ground at the time. Then the situation was found to be calm. I am advised by the military authorities that the situation remains calm.
The safety of Irish personnel serving overseas is always of paramount concern. While no absolute guarantees can be given with regard to the safety of troops serving in missions it is the policy and practice to ensure that Defence Forces personnel are adequately trained and equipped to carry out their mission. Troops selected for overseas service undergo a rigorous programme of training and this will also apply in the case of the contingent to be deployed for service with UNMEE.
Planned deployment schedule
The Irish contingent will be housed in UN accommodation in Asmara, Eritrea, where they will be co-located with other Force HQ personnel. The contingent is required to become operational on 11 December, 2001 and will rotate in June, 2002. The proposed deployment schedule is as follows:
- The equipment for the mission will be shipped on 5 November, 2001.
- Two logistics planning officers will travel to Asmara on 12 November, 2001, while the logistical advance party will travel on 27 November, 2001.
- The deployment of the main body of the contingent will take place on 5 December, 2001.
In support of the tasks to be undertaken the following vehicles and equipment will be deployed:
4 General Purpose Machine Guns
6 Armoured Personnel Carriers (new Mowags)
The UN has indicated that the Irish contingent must be capable of logistic sustainment under wet lease arrangement.
Costs falling for payment in 2001 will be met from within existing provisions in the Defence Vote for 2001. Appropriate provision is being made in the Defence Estimates 2002, in consultation with the Department of Finance, for expenditure to be incurred in that year. The additional costs for 2001/2002 are estimated at £4.9m (Euro 6.2m), which includes overseas allowances, transportation costs of both troops and equipment and includes rotation costs.
A draft Memorandum of Understanding was received from the UN last week outlining the resources which Ireland will contribute to UNMEE and establishing the terms and conditions of the contribution. This document is currently under examination in the Department of Defence in consultation with the military authorities. The terms of the MOU to be signed by Ireland and the UN in the near future will provide for reimbursement by the UN for Staff Officers provided to UNMEE Force HQ as well as the contingent personnel and the equipment costs.
Ireland has a long tradition of supporting United Nations peacekeeping missions. We have contributed actively and continuously to such operations since 1958 when a group of officers took up duty in Lebanon with a United Nations Observer Group. This has been a considerable commitment for our nation and has been made possible by the willingness of members of the Defence Forces to volunteer for UN service.
The professional advantages of service with UN missions are very substantial. Members of the Defence Forces on UN missions have the opportunity to exercise command in challenging operational situations. Valuable experience is gained in patrolling and in defusing tension. There is also a lot to be learned from holding staff appointments in Force Headquarters. Interaction with contingents of other countries and exposure to methods employed by them is very beneficial. The wide experience gained from participation in UN peacekeeping operations is of benefit, not only to the Defence Forces in the discharge of their functions in aid of the civil power but also to various Government Departments and emergency services which, when occasion demands, avail of emergency support which the Defence Forces are in a position to provide.
Over the years Ireland has built up a fine reputation in the field of international peacekeeping and a considerable measure of international goodwill has resulted. This is something which is fostered by continued participation in UN operations.
Since our first involvement in peacekeeping in 1958, Ireland's willingness to participate in UN peacekeeping missions has been motivated by a firm belief that we have a moral imperative to assist our fellow human beings, to put it simply, to play our part.