UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
ETHIOPIA-ERITREA: Military officials to discuss border tension
ADDIS ABABA, 18 Nov 2005 (IRIN) - Senior military officers from Ethiopia and Eritrea are to discuss tensions along their common frontier at a meeting next week in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, a UN official said on Friday.
The officers will hold one-day talks on 25 November, according to UN spokeswoman Gail Bindley Taylor Sainte. The current military standoff between the two neighbours, which has been exacerbated by troop movements, had caused the situation to remain "tense and potentially volatile", she added.
The UN, Sainte explained, hoped to use the Nairobi meeting to address international fears that a new conflict could erupt in the region.
"It is the only forum where both parties meet, so I am sure we will use that opportunity to raise all the issues on the ground," Sainte told reporters in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
"This will be the first time that Ethiopian and Eritrean military officials meet since we described the situation as tense and potentially volatile," she added.
Maj Gen Rajinder Singh, the force commander of the UN peacekeepers in the region, will chair the UN-brokered talks. Last month, he cautioned that a new war could erupt if nothing was done to try and end the rising tensions.
According to UN peacekeepers, large troop movements have continued on both sides of the border and restrictions imposed by Eritrea have hampered their ability to monitor the situation.
Ethiopia has moved two divisions - estimated at around 12,000 men - to the border region in the last two weeks and stationed them some 40 km from the buffer zone, Sainte added.
Since December, Ethiopia has deployed up to seven army divisions close to the buffer zone and ignored UN Security Council requests to withdraw them. The government insists it is a purely defensive measure in case of attack.
Restrictions by local Eritrean officials on the 3,200 UN peacekeeping troops that patrol the 25-km wide buffer zone and surrounding areas have also increased in the last week.
The UN mission estimated that Eritrea’s ban on helicopter flights had cut their monitoring capacity by more than half. Almost all night patrols have been curtailed, and restrictions have been placed on vehicle and foot patrols.
Around 300,000 men are believed to be entrenched along the 1,000-km frontier, where both countries waged a bloody two-year war.
Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after a 30-year guerrilla war, but the boundary between the two East African nations was never formally demarcated. A border war that erupted in 1998 killed tens of thousands of people and cost both countries an estimated US $1 million a day.
A 2000 peace agreement provided for an independent commission to rule on the boundary. Ethiopia refused to accept the panel's 2002 decision.
UN peacekeeping troops now monitor a buffer zone at a cost of $189 million a year. Eritrea has said that whatever movements may have occurred on its side near the border have to do with agricultural activities.
The last meeting by military officials from both sides was in September, when the UN said the peacekeepers described the situation as "stable".
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