Global Policy Forum

Some Leery of Plan to Lift Ban

January 8, 2001

Misgivings are mounting, even among some American officials here, over United States efforts to lift an arms embargo against Ethiopia and Eritrea while the two African countries are still putting in place a fresh peace accord ending a border war that killed tens of thousands of combatants.

Secretary General Kofi Annan and some officials at the United States Mission to the United Nations, have expressed doubts about a draft resolution introduced in the 15-member Security Council shortly before the new year that aims to end the arms embargo, Western diplomats said.

In particular, strong objections have been raised by Canada and the Netherlands, which have peacekeepers in Eritrea and Ethiopia as part of some 4,200 United Nations forces who are supposed to oversee the peace accord signed by the two Horn of Africa countries on Dec. 12.

"It would be better to focus on confidence-building measures at this stage and give the peacekeeping troops a chance to get set up and to establish relationships with people on both sides," said the Canadian ambassador, Paul Heinbecker. "We appreciate the progress the two sides made but think it would be good to give that agreement some time to mature," he said. "The two governments presumably have other priorities they could be spending their money on."

The arms embargo is scheduled to expire in May, a year after it was imposed, and several countries want the ban to stay in place at least until then. It will stay in place unless the Council votes to extend it or until Mr. Annan reports that "a peaceful definitive settlement of the conflict" between Eritrea and Ethiopia has been reached. Most Council members argue that Mr. Annan has not yet issued such a report.

But Western diplomats said this weekend that the former national security adviser Anthony Lake and Assistant Secretary of State Susan Rice, who brokered the peace accord, apparently promised Ethiopia that the arms embargo would be lifted once the peace accord was signed.

Ethiopia and and Eritrea continue to trade accusations daily over details of the accord. Under the agreement, Ethiopia is to pull back to positions it held before the war broke out, and Eritrea is to withdraw to 15 miles from Ethiopian positions. But the two nations are still arguing over which areas were under whose administration before the war broke out.

The accord also calls for an independent commission to demarcate the 600-mile border, while other commissions are to address compensation for war damages, an exchange of prisoners and the return of people displaced from their homes. The work of the border commission is expected to last three years.

Tens of thousands of soldiers were killed in World War I-style trench warfare during the conflict, and tens of thousands of others were taken prisoner or uprooted.

More Information on Ethiopia and Eritrea


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