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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

ERITREA-ETHIOPIA: "We don't want another Cyprus", says UN

ADDIS ABABA, 31 July 2003 (IRIN) - A lack of dialogue between Ethiopia and Eritrea could endanger peace between the two countries, the United Nations said on Thursday.

Legwaila Joseph Legwaila, who heads the UN peacekeeping Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE), said it was essential that talks take place to prevent misunderstandings.

He told a press briefing in Addis Ababa it was vital for the international community to “persuade” both countries – who fought a bitter war from 1998-2000 - to start normalising relations.

“The status quo, that is the non-communication between the two governments, complicates the situation,” Legwaila said. “When you don’t talk to each other, misunderstandings can lead to conflict.”

He said the 4,200-strong UN mission – which costs around US $250 million a year – was still in place because the two countries had not implemented last year’s ruling by an independent boundary commission.

“If, immediately after the decision was rendered last year, the boundary commission had been able to demarcate the border, we would be packing our suitcases to go," he stated.

“But the border is far from being demarcated simply because there is disagreement between the boundary commission and one of the parties.

“The success of the peacekeeping is nothing without the demarcation of the border,” he said. “There can be no peace process without the demarcation of the border.

“It is not the intention of the UN Security Council to watch and see this become another Cyprus."

Ethiopia, unhappy over the fact that Badme - where the conflict flared up - has been situated in Eritrea, has urged the commission to adjust its April 2002 decision.

Legwaila, who has headed UNMEE as the Secretary-General's Special Representative since the mission arrived three years ago, said there were “many areas where the boundary commission and Ethiopia are not in agreement”.

He would not commit himself on whether the new October demarcation deadline would be met. “I am neither hopeful or hopeless,” he said. Demarcation has already been postponed twice.

He also said he was “disappointed” by the row between Ethiopia and Eritrea which broke out over the identity of 220 dead soldiers. At the last minute, Ethiopia said the soldiers were Eritrean but agreed to bury them on "humanitarian" grounds.

“Let them rest in peace,” Legwaila said.

UNMEE also stated that Eritrea had expressed its “frustration” over the delay in demarcation and the row over the repatriation of the dead soldiers.

Themes: (IRIN) Conflict



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