Meles Urges UN to "Salvage" Peace Process

UN Integrated Regional Information Network
September 24, 2003

Ethiopian Premier Meles Zenawi has urged the UN Security Council to "salvage" the faltering peace process with Eritrea, saying the independent boundary commission set up to resolve the bitter border dispute was in a "terminal crisis". In a three-page letter to the Council, dated 22 September, he urged the UN body to "set up an alternative mechanism to demarcate the contested parts of the boundary".

Diplomats said the move was a blow for the international community which was hoping demarcation of the 1,000 km border with Eritrea would begin next month and end by June 2004. The move also comes as the European Union (EU) warned in a statement that only a "definitive end" to the border dispute would bring peace to the beleaguered region. Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a bloody border war from 1998-2000, sparked by a dispute in the village of Badme. An estimated 70,000 people were killed.

A 4,200-strong UN peacekeeping force currently keeps the two sides apart within a 25 km buffer zone. Last year, the Hague-based Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC), provided for in the peace agreement between the countries, ruled on the new border which both sides agreed to accept as final and binding.

However, Ethiopia has expressed unhappiness over the ruling, particularly the awarding of key territories - including Badme - to Eritrea. "It is unimaginable for the Ethiopian people to accept such a blatant miscarriage of justice," warned Meles, who is coming under increasing pressure at home over the ruling.

He spelled out a six-point action plan which, he said, would "break the present deadlock" between the two neighbouring countries. "Despite the veneer of normalcy in the work of the Boundary Commission, I am afraid the work of the commission is in terminal crisis," he said.

He added that Badme was "symbolically important" and the "casus belli" for the two-year war. "The decision is thus a recipe for continued instability, and even recurring wars," Meles warned. "Nothing worthwhile can therefore be expected from the Commission to salvage the peace process," he stated. "Indeed, the Commission seems to be determined to continue its disastrous stance whatever the consequences to peace in the region." Eritrea meanwhile accused Ethiopia of trying to "hoodwink" the international community and undermine the EEBC decision.

In a statement issued by its embassy in the US, the Eritrean government said Addis Ababa's "contradictory statements" could not be "condoned by the international community". "Their antics have delayed the demarcation process and threaten the greater peace and stability of the region," the statement warned. Analysts point out it is unlikely that Eritrea will entertain any attempts by Ethiopia to have the ruling changed.

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