Ethiopia, Eritrea Run Risk of New War - UN Envoy


By David Ljunggren

March 27, 2005

Ethiopia and Eritrea run the risk of starting a new war over a long-running border dispute, with tensions being fueled by irresponsible arms sales to both impoverished African nations, a senior United Nations official said on Thursday. "Time is running out. Both countries are acquiring additional arms, increasing the number of forces at their borders," said former Canadian foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy, the special U.N. envoy for Ethiopia and Eritrea. "I still believe, however, that war can averted," he told Parliament's foreign affairs committee in Ottawa.

Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a two-year border war from 1998 to 2000 in which more than 70,000 people died. The conflict ended with a peace deal in 2002 that set up a commission to determine where the border should lie. Ethiopia, which objects to some of the commission's conclusions, recently moved troops into the buffer zone along the border.

Axworthy noted the two sides had adopted "a more military tone to the dialogue" and called on the international community to clamp down on arms sales to the two nations. "There are a lot of countries who should know better who are making good profit off the arms sales and I think some effort through the (U.N. Security) Council to put some limitations on that would be well worth looking at," he said.

Axworthy did not name the nations he said were selling arms to the two countries. In the past, both sides have variously bought weapons and equipment from China, Bulgaria, Romania, Russia, the United States, Italy, Israel and others. Eritrea has refused to meet with Axworthy, saying Ethiopia should abide by the border commission's rulings. "It's becoming a little bit of a zero sum game," said Axworthy, who insisted both sides had to respect the rule of law and abide by the 2002 peace deal. "There is no alternative mechanism. The only alternative is going to war," he said.

Some 3,200 U.N. peacekeepers are currently patrolling the 25-km (15-mile) wide buffer zone set up along the 900-km (570-mile) frontier separating the neighbors. Last month the European Union expressed concern about the military build-up on both sides of the border. Ethiopia has a population of almost 70 million people while there are only 4 million in Eritrea. "Giving up is not an option. We can't turn our backs on 70 million people," said Axworthy. "The serious impact of the continuing stalemate is devastating for the people of the region."

More Information on the Security Council
More Information on Ethiopia and Eritrea
More Information on Peacekeeping
More Information on Small Arms and Light Weapons

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