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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Thursday 6 January 2005

ETHIOPIA-ERITREA: No sign of military build-up, says UNMEE

ADDIS ABABA, 6 Jan 2005 (IRIN) - The UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) deputy head, Sissel Ekaas, said on Thursday there was no sign of a military build-up in the Horn of Africa.

Eritrean president, Isayas Afeworki, had claimed in his New Year address that Ethiopia was making unexplained military preparations. However, Ekaas said recent Ethiopian troop movements were known in advance and occurred at least 15 km away from the demilitarised zone that separates the two countries.

"As we know - on both sides the rhetoric has always been very strong and at times it reaches fever pitch," Ekaas told a video-linked press conference between Asmara and Addis Ababa held at UNMEE headquarters.

"There have been a lot of accusations and counter accusations about a build-up and of course, UNMEE, despite the holiday period, has continued its monitoring in all sectors," she added. "This statement by President Isayas is his analysis and his interpretation. He sees this as, perhaps, preparations for war."

Ekaas said UNMEE monitoring and observation did not "give any ground or evidence to say that there is mass mobilisation - that there are offensive, aggressive positioning of troops".

"We cannot find any evidence of that," she told reporters.

Isayas told state-run Eritrean Radio on 1 January that Ethiopia must withdraw from territory along the frontier, which it says they are illegally occupying. "The military preparation in Ethiopia has not been seen before as it is now," he said.

The two countries fought a bloody war over their border that was sparked in May 1998. In November, Ethiopia accepted "in principle" a ruling on its shared border with Eritrea that was made as a part of a peace deal ending the two-and-a-half-year war. The ruling that marks their border was made in April 2002 by an internationally appointed commission, but was initially rejected by Ethiopia.

Ethiopia still rejects key elements of the ruling and, in particular, the decision by the commission to award Badme - the border town where the war flared up - to Eritrea.

UNMEE said last week it carried out 606 ground and 27 air reconnaissance patrols in and around the 1,000-km-long border region. Ekkas added that the UN force commander was "on the ground" verifying that recent Ethiopian troop movements were a "reconfiguration of their defences" as stated.

She also urged the international community not to loose sight of the Ethiopia-Eritrea peace process, given the demands of the tsunami catastrophe that struck in December.

[ENDS]



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