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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Friday 14 May 2004

ERITREA-ETHIOPIA: Addis Ababa says militia trespass of TSZ prompted by cattle theft

ADDIS ABABA, 14 May 2004 (IRIN) - Ethiopia has defended armed militiamen who entered the UN-patrolled demilitarised zone, saying they were retrieving stolen cattle.

In a statement released on Wednesday, the foreign ministry said several armed men had entered the off-limits buffer zone to recover the livestock. "This latest event was caused by cattle rustling in which 500 head of cattle were stolen by Eritrean troops who crossed into Ethiopia south of the Temporary Security Zone [TSZ] and returned to Eritrea with their booty," the statement said.

"This resulted in a few armed elements - to be exact, four armed militiamen - from the Ethiopian side to cross into the Temporary Security Zone in pursuit of the stolen cattle, an act which Ethiopia has never [condoned] and will not condone, but which nevertheless was a reaction to provocation by Eritrea," it added.

The TSZ was established after the bloody conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea to ensure stability along their common border. Although Eritrean militia are authorised to patrol inside the TSZ, it is strictly off-limits to Ethiopian troops or militia; some 3,000 Blue Helmets patrol its 1,000-km length.

However, cattle rustling has been rife along the border, and the UN peacekeepers have expressed concern that a localised incident could spark off conflict between the two sides.

The foreign ministry said its statement was issued in response to concerns expressed by Washington. "The United States is disturbed by reports that Ethiopian militia have entered the Temporary Security Zone between Ethiopia and Eritrea," the US State Department said in a statement earlier this week.

"The United Nations Mission in Eritrea and Ethiopia (UNMEE) monitors the Temporary Security Zone, and any probing from Ethiopia is considered a provocative action. We ask the Government of Ethiopia to prevent further incursions into the Temporary Security Zone in accordance with the Agreement on Cessation of Hostilities," it added.

The statement went on to say that that the US was also concerned about "reports that the Government of Eritrea has limited the movement and activities of the United Nations Mission in Eritrea and Ethiopia (UNMEE). We call on the Government of Eritrea to allow full freedom of movement and to immediately lift without any preconditions any and all restrictions on and impediments to the work of UNMEE."

The State Department reminded the two countries that they had "accepted as final and binding the decision [in] April 2002 made by the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission", and accordingly called on them "to allow the United Nations to physically mark the border in accordance with that decision".

The US is one of the guarantors of the peace process between Ethiopia and Eritrea, and witnessed the signing of the December 2000 Algiers Peace Accord by both sides.


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