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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

ERITREA-ETHIOPIA: Peace process remains difficult, says Annan

ADDIS ABABA, 5 January 2004 (IRIN) - UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has stressed that the peace process between Ethiopia and Eritrea "remains difficult, even precarious". In a report to the UN Security Council, released on 2 January, he stressed that a "fundamental requirement" for peace lay in demarcating their common border.

"The situation between Ethiopia and Eritrea remains difficult, even precarious, and I am concerned that a minor miscalculation by either side could have serious consequences," Annan said in the latest quarterly progress report on the peace process. "There is no doubt that a fundamental requirement for the successful completion of the peace process and future normalisation of relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea lies in the expeditious demarcation of their common border."

In recent months, tensions between the two nations have escalated due to landmine blasts, large troop movements and shootings and cross-border incidents.

The secretary-general noted that an "open channel of communication at all levels" was vital for the future stability and benefit of the two countries. "While I acknowledge that Eritrea has certain reservations about initiating a dialogue with Ethiopia until the border has been demarcated, it must be stressed that the continued absence of dialogue will make improvement of relations exceedingly difficult and that such dialogue may be the only way to overcome the current impasse before the situation further deteriorates," Annan said.

"It is also important to note that the normalisation of relations should not be considered a zero-sum game, but rather as a process which could be of great benefit to both countries and reinforce various processes between them," he added.

Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a border conflict between 1998 and 2000 which claimed around 70,000 lives and cost the impoverished countries millions of dollars. But under a peace deal signed in Algiers in December 2000 both countries agreed on the setting up an independent boundary commission to end tensions between them.

Ethiopia rejected the commission's April 2002 ruling, and the physical marking of the border, which was due to have taken place last year and has since been suspended indefinitely. Addis Ababa's main contention is that an Ethiopian-administered town, Badme, where the war first flared up in May 1998, was placed by the ruling in Eritrea.

"While there are no evident signs of preparations for hostilities on either side of the Temporary Security Zone [the 25-km-wide UN-controlled buffer zone between the two countries], recent inflammatory rhetoric, in particular in Eritrea, has done nothing to advance the peace process," Annan added. "This conflict can only be resolved by peaceful means, and I wish to emphasise that any threat to use force, or any preparations in this regard, are extremely dangerous," he stressed.

Themes: (IRIN) Conflict



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