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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Friday 25 November 2005

ETHIOPIA-ERITREA: Troops sighted in demilitarised zone

ADDIS ABABA, 25 Nov 2005 (IRIN) - Ethiopian troops illegally entered a demilitarised zone inside Eritrea amidst heightened tensions between the two countries over their disputed common border, the UN said on Thursday.

Despite the UN Security Council’s threat to impose sanctions on the two countries unless they resolved their standoff, a small number of troops had occupied the territory for six days, according to the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE).

"Any violation of the Temporary Security Zone is of concern to us - it doesn't matter how tiny it may be," UN spokeswoman Gail Bindley-Taylor-Sainte told reporters in Asmara and Addis Ababa at a video-linked news conference.

"Any violation of the integrity of the Temporary Security Zone is of the utmost importance to UNMEE because it directly affects our mandate, which is to monitor and verify the redeployment of the troops of both parties and to maintain the integrity of the Temporary Security Zone," she added.

"So we are concerned about any violation - especially at this point in time when our monitoring capability is considerably degraded," she said.

On 5 October, the Eritrean government banned helicopter flights by UN peacekeepers in its airspace over the buffer zone. Local officials also banned UN vehicles from night patrols on its side of the zone, forcing the UN to vacate 18 of its 40 monitoring posts.

The spokeswoman explained that around 20 troops entered the demilitarised zone last Friday and then left peacefully the following Wednesday. The area, in the eastern border region, was the scene of some of the most intense fighting during the boundary war, which started in May 1998.

The eastern sector is also the location of the disputed village of Badme, to which both countries lay claim.

It was not the first time Ethiopian troops have entered the 25-km buffer zone in violation of the 2000 peace deal that ended the bloody two-year border war.

"They have violated the TSZ for a while, but the situation was resolved very quickly," she added.

The reported incursion coincided with a Security Council resolution issued on Wednesday, which threatened sanctions against the two nations if they continued to engage in activities that aggravated the border standoff. The resolution followed a visit to the region by Japanese Ambassador Kenzo Oshima on behalf of the Council. In his report, the envoy described the volatility of the situation and stressed the importance of ending the stalemate.

Sainte said the Ethiopians maintained that they had entered the area because of worries that the peacekeepers had pulled out.

"They were concerned that we had vacated the location because it is a very strategic point within the area," she added.

Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after a 30-year guerrilla war, but the border between the two was never formally demarcated. A conflict over the disputed boundary erupted in 1998 and claimed tens of thousands of lives.

A December 2000 peace agreement provided for an independent boundary commission to rule on the position of the disputed 1,000-km border. Ethiopia refused to accept all of the panel's April 2002 decision, which awarded Badme, where the war first flared up, to Eritrea.

The two countries remain locked in a tense stalemate. Some 3,200 UN peacekeeping troops currently patrol the buffer zone between them.

[ENDS]

This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but May not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2005



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