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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

ERITREA-ETHIOPIA: End the impasse, British envoy urges

ADDIS ABABA, 20 January 2004 (IRIN) - Ethiopia and Eritrea have been warned that the international community is gradually running out of patience with their stalled three-year-old peace process.

Speaking at a news conference on Monday in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, Chris Mullin, the UK's foreign minister for Africa, warned the two countries that the West had not ruled out sanctions as a means of compelling them to implement their peace deal.

He said it would take "an act of statesmanship" on the part of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to break the current deadlock deal.

Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a bloody two-year border war that ended in a peace deal signed in Algiers in December 2000. Under the agreement, an independent boundary commission was set up to finalise the demarcation of their 1,000-km border. But Ethiopia is contesting elements of the commission's ruling that place the town of Badme, where the war first flared up, in Eritrea, and determine that Ethiopia hand over parts of the Irob area.

"It is very difficult for the outside world to understand when two small, extremely poor countries get involved in a war that consumes perhaps nearly 100,000 lives over a very small amount of territorial difference on the border," Mullin said.

"You have to start compromising and moving towards the bigger picture," he added, saying that the US $180 million a year the international community was paying for the 4,200 United Nations peacekeepers who patrol the border could not go on being disbursed indefinitely.

"Just a little bit of impatience is beginning to occur on the part of those who are funding this arrangement," he revealed.

Mullin said both countries would have to "face up to their responsibilities", stressing that the stalemate could no longer be allowed to persist.

He called on the two countries to recognise that their real enemy was poverty. "This is the war that Ethiopia needs to fight, and we are willing to help it fight it. If neither side is willing to compromise, it is no good saying you want peace," he stressed, pointing out that the deadlock was inhibiting the economic development of both countries.

Mullin's comments came at the end of his six-day tour of Eritrea, Ethiopia and Djibouti.

Fears have grown that in the absence of a breakthrough, tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea could once again flare up in a resumption of hostilities.

To avert such an eventuality, Ethiopia says, there is need for "a broad-based dialogue" with Eritrea, which, for its part, is unwilling to engage in such talks until demarcation of the border begins.

"We don't think it is a very good idea to have another war over Badme," Mullin said, asserting that Ethiopia must "accept in principle" the boundary commission's decision, and then engage in dialogue with Eritrea. He pointed out that once Ethiopia had accepted the ruling, it would share the "moral high ground" that Eritrea had gained by having already done so. Only then, he stressed, could a move towards talks be made.

Increasing diplomatic pressure has been brought to bear on the two sides to resolve their deadlock in the form of the visits to Ethiopia by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, and to both Ethiopia and Eritrea by US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Donald Yamamoto.

Themes: (IRIN) Conflict

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