UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
ERITREA-ETHIOPIA: UN envoy urges resolution of border dispute
ASMARA, 25 Aug 2005 (IRIN) - Eritrea and Ethiopia must resolve the dispute over their common border because it continues to overshadow humanitarian activities and negatively impact development, a UN envoy said on Wednesday.
"I cannot help recognising the fact that the border issue has not been solved. [It] has influence not only on the humanitarian side [but also on] the use of resources by the government," said Martti Ahtisaari, the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary General for the Humanitarian Crisis in the Horn of Africa.
"If I would hope for one thing to be solved, I would definitely say it is the border issue, because it overshadows everything that we do," he added at the end of a two-day visit to Eritrea.
Attempts to resolve the border dispute between the two countries since the end of a bloody two-year war in 2000 are in stalemate.
Under the terms of the 2000 Algiers Peace Agreement that ended the conflict, both sides agreed to accept as "final and binding" a ruling made by an independent boundary commission regarding the border's position.
After initially rejecting this decision, Ethiopia in November 2004 accepted the commission's ruling "in principle", but called for dialogue on its implementation in disputed areas of the 1,000 km border.
Eritrea, on the other hand, rejected the idea of dialogue and insisted on full implementation of the commission's decision.
The UN has about 3,000 peacekeepers patrolling the border between the two countries.
Ahtisaari's visit was intended to raise international awareness about the impact of war, recurring drought and food insecurity, as well as assist in mobilising donor support for long-term recovery programmes and persistent humanitarian needs.
The lingering effects of the border war: destroyed houses, mined villages, shattered livelihoods, continued tension and military mobilisation, combined with five years of consecutive drought, had all contributed to persistent poverty in the region, he said.
Eritrea is one of the poorest countries in the world; relief agencies report that two-thirds of its 3.6 million people will require food aid this year alone.
"We have here, like elsewhere, also a problem with the non-food items, and I think that is an area perhaps that I have tried to emphasise to the donor community so that there are hopefully more resources towards non-food items," Ahtisaari said.
In May, the Eritrean government published a proclamation to regulate NGOs operating in the Red Sea state. It required them to register on an annual basis, have at least US $2 million at their disposal in Eritrea and pay tax on imports of items for relief aid, including food.
Some 36 NGOs are currently waiting to hear whether the government has accepted their applications for registration in Eritrea, and some aid workers have reported that non-food aid items are being held up at Massawa Port pending the resolution of the tax issue.
Last week, the Minister of Labour and Human Welfare, Askalu Menkerios, said her ministry had paid roughly $60,000 in taxes and costs for 1,500 mt of food aid on behalf of the Red Cross Society of Eritrea.
Ahtisaari said he could see a certain logic in the government's attempt to tax humanitarian assistance, and in its decision to pay the tax itself.
"They basically want to send the message to the population that: 'Look, this is not a free thing - we should try to work as much as we can within our resources and within those that the donor community puts at our disposal'," he said.
He added: "In none of my contacts with the government did they say they do not want the NGO community. It was very clear."
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