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Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

13 September 2001

The situation between Ethiopia and Eritrea continued to be terribly polarized with a lot of bitterness between the parties, Legwaila Joseph Legwaila, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE), told correspondents this afternoon at a Headquarters press briefing.

Speaking to the press following his briefing to the Security Council on the latest developments in the region, Mr. Legwaila said that the only forum where both parties had agreed to sit down together was the Military Coordination Commission. Otherwise, they would not let the Mission get them together, especially at a political level.

The Mission's most important achievement since its establishment, almost a year ago, had been the separation of the forces, which was completed on 18 April, he said. At that time, the Eritrean defence force redeployed to the northern side of the northern border of the Temporary Security Zone (TSZ) -– created on 18 April to certify the separation of the forces. The forces were now 25 kilometres apart, with the Ethiopians on the southern side of the southern border of the Zone and the Eritreans on the northern side of the northern border.

He was worried that the longer the two countries took to normalize their relations, the longer and harder it would be for them once the United Nations left. It would not be good for them or for the region, he said, if the United Nations were to leave before the parties began the process of normalization. "There is so much they can do together, so much they can gain from each other."

Every successful peacekeeping operation, he went on to say, was successful because of the cooperation of the parties and not due to the brilliance of a special representative or envoy. "It was simply because the parties themselves had found it in their interest to cooperate with the United Nations to achieve something."

The bitterness between the two parties, he said, was a consequence of the war they had just fought. Prior to the outbreak of the latest war, they had been friends and had fought together. He had tried to keep reminding them that they had been friends before and, therefore, could be friends again. He did not believe that the bitterness was something they could not overcome.

He emphasized that it had been a difficult process to negotiate the map by which the Zone was demarcated. Even today, the parties had not officially accepted the map. However, they had lived with it and cooperated with the United Nations in the management of the Zone. The internally displaced persons had returned to their villages within the Zone, had plowed their fields, were tending their cattle and were reconstructing their homes with the help of UNMEE, the United Nations agencies and the international community.

The Zone, he said, was stable with people going about their lives in peace and tranquillity. The United Nations was monitoring the area with three battalions –- the Kenyan Battalion in the eastern sector, the Indian Battalion in the center, and the Jordanian Battalion in the western sector. While there was supposed to be a total of 4,200 troops there, there was actually a little less as some of the contingents had not been fully deployed.

The Mission had not achieved every one of its objectives, but it had achieved a lot, he added. There was peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea. The UNMEE could only complete its mission once the Border Commission completed its work -– estimated to be by 2002 -- announced its decision, and the parties accepted that decision.

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