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16 August 1999 Eritrean President Cautiously Optimistic About Peace (Isaias accepts documents charting peace with Ethiopia) (680) By David Pitts USIA Staff Writer Washington -- Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki has said he is "cautiously optimistic" about the chances for peace between his country and Ethiopia. "The prospects for peace appear better than at any time in the past 15 months" since a border dispute erupted into armed conflict, he added. Speaking August 16 at the National Press Club in Washington, Isaias called the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea "the most devastating war anywhere in the world." More than half a million soldiers from both countries have been engaged in the dispute, with "tens of thousands of casualties on both sides," he noted. Isaias said Eritrea's commitment to peace is evidenced by its acceptance of three documents produced under the auspices of the Organization of African Unity (OAU). The documents are: -- A Framework Agreement that sets out the terms for a cessation of hostilities. -- A Modalities for Implementation Document that details how the terms of the Framework Agreement will be executed. -- A Proposal on Technical Arrangements that deals with the complex technical details involved in carrying out the provisions of the first two documents. Eritrea accepted the Proposal on Technical Arrangements last week. Isaias said that he sent Eritrea's official and written acceptance to Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who is the current chairman of the OAU. The proposal was worked out by technical experts from the OAU, the United Nations, and the United States. The envisaged next steps are a formal signature of all three documents by both countries, a cessation of hostilities, and demarcation of borders within specific time frames. Isaias made it clear that Eritrea accepts the terms of all three documents. The Modalities for Implementation Document "has clarified a number of issues," he said, and provides for implementation to occur " in a clearly defined time frame." The Technical Document, in particular, is "very clear," he continued, and leaves the two countries "with no room for maneuver. It is almost a perfect document." Asked why he is cautiously optimistic rather than fully optimistic, Isaias responded that although Ethiopia has accepted the Framework Agreement and the Modalities for Implementation Document, it has not yet signed on to the Proposal on Technical Arrangements. In response to other questions, Isaias denied that Eritrea accepted the OAU-brokered peace documents because of weakness. The Ethiopian government "wants to believe we have not accepted them and banked on us not accepting them," he continued, "because they want a justification for war." He suggested the government in the Ethiopian capital "needs an external threat" because of opposition within the country. But Eritrea "is not assisting" the Ethiopian opposition," he stressed. Isaias said that Eritrea is not making a peace agreement contingent on settlement of its compensation claims for "the more than 6O,OOO of our people expelled from Ethiopia." Compensation "is not a precondition now or tomorrow," he added. "We would like to see the border demarcated without preconditions." The Eritrean leader said he is in the United States on an unofficial visit and has no plans to meet with U.S. officials. But he said he wants the United States to continue to help solve the Eritrean-Ethiopian conflict and others in Africa. "We want the U.S. to continue constructive engagement with Africa," he said. Isaias is the first president of Eritrea. He was elected by the National Assembly in 1993. He had been a combatant with the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF), which successfully fought for the country's independence. Reuters reported August 13 that the Clinton administration sees no need to send the U.S. special envoy for the promotion of democracy in Africa, Jesse Jackson, to the continent to help the peace agreement materialize. "I don't see any need for the Reverend Jackson to come in, said White House National Security Council spokesperson David Leavy. Reuters reported that both Ethiopia and Eritrea "have accepted a peace agreement," but Ethiopia "has raised questions about the peace plan." -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Return to Washington File home page

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