Global Policy Forum

Eritrea Rules Out Army Cuts in Peace Talks

June 27, 2000

Eritrea has said it will not bow to Ethiopian demands that it reduce the size of its army in peace talks to put a definitive end to their two-year border war. The two sides earlier this month signed a deal calling for an immediate ceasefire and the deployment of U.N. peacekeepers in a 25-kilometer (15-mile) buffer zone between the two armies.

Fighting has stopped but several key issues remain unresolved and, with U.N. peacekeepers unlikely to be deployed for several months, there are concerns that new clashes could erupt if negotiations go badly. A comprehensive peace deal requires the final demarcation of the border, which was not clearly defined when Eritrea won independence from Ethiopia in 1993.

Ethiopia has also raised other controversial issues, including compensation for civilian victims of the war, the repatriation of Ethiopian nationals detained inside Eritrea and a reduction of Eritrea's army. "The number of Eritrea's army should be reduced to bring about a durable peace in the Horn of Africa region," Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin said last week at the end of the most recent round of talks in Algiers.

But Eritrea says Ethiopia has no right to demand military cuts because the issue forms no part of a framework peace proposal drawn up by the Organization of African Unity. "Now Ethiopia is raising irrational issues or issues that will prevent serious discussions," presidential adviser Yemane Gebremeskel said late on Monday. "One was the size of the Eritrean army that they want reduced."

More talks in Washington, Algiers

Technical experts from both sides are to meet in Washington later this week to begin the task of demarcation, while the two sides will renew the negotiations in Algiers next week.

Tens of thousands of soldiers on both sides are believed to have died in the border war, which began in May 1998. Ethiopia gained a clear military advantage with a huge offensive launched in mid-May. Its army quickly recaptured disputed territories seized at the start of the war and then drove across the border and deep into Eritrean territory.

The ceasefire deal signed in Algiers reflects Ethiopia's military advantage as it sets up the buffer zone inside Eritrean territory along the length of the 1,000-km (600-mile) border.

Although the two sides are now bickering over a definitive peace deal, they also say there have been some advances. "Mediators are optimistic," Yemane said. Both sides are expected to repatriate hundreds of each other's civilians on Wednesday in a formal exchange organized by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

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