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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Thursday 1 December 2005

ETHIOPIA: Possible pullback of troops from border - UNMEE

ADDIS ABABA, 1 Dec 2005 (IRIN) - Ethiopia may be willing to pull back thousands of troops recently moved close to its tense border with Eritrea, the UN military commander in the region said on Thursday.

Maj-Gen Rajender Singh, commander of the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) peacekeeping force, said Ethiopia had indicated that they would comply with a recent UN Security Council resolution calling for a return of both Ethiopian and Eritrean troops to their 16 December positions.

"This is very positive," observed Singh, whose 3,200 peacekeepers monitor the "tense and potentially volatile" 1,000 km border between the two countries.

Since December, Ethiopia has moved eight divisions - totalling around 50,000 men - towards the border in what it called a purely defensive measure, the UN maintained in a previous statement.

"There are various kinds of divisions, and these divisions do not only consist of men," Singh told journalists via a video link from the Eritrean capital, Asmara.

"They consist of men, materials, weapons and hardware like tanks and missiles and other things. The details are yet to be worked out," he added.

Diplomats estimate that around 380,000 troops from both sides are entrenched along the 1,000 km frontier where the countries waged a bloody two-year war. Thousands of militia are also armed, they added.

"As far as Ethiopia is concerned, they have indicated they are willing [to comply with parts of the recent UN Security Council resolution]. I have had some discussions with the authorities regarding the pullback of their additional troops which they have brought up to the border," Singh said.

Troop movements, he added, were continuing along the frontier and restrictions imposed by Eritrea on air and ground patrols were still in place.

The Security Council resolution passed on 23 November threatened sanctions against both countries if they continued deploying troops on the border. It also called on Eritrea to lift its ban on UNMEE helicopter flights.

The redeployment must be completed within 30 days, the Security Council said.

Singh reported that he had not yet held discussions with the Eritrean authorities regarding their compliance to the resolution.

Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after a 30-year guerrilla war, but the boundary between the two countries was never formally demarcated. A border war that erupted in 1998 killed tens of thousands of people.

A 2000 peace agreement provided for an independent commission to rule on the border. Ethiopia refused to accept the panel's decision.


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