Global Policy Forum

Ethiopia Begins Withdrawing

February 12, 2001

Ethiopia has begun withdrawing its troops from Eritrea in a redeployment that will formally allow the United Nations to take charge of a buffer zone on the disputed border separating the two countries, officials said today.

About 600 Ethiopian soldiers had withdrawn from the Eritrean town of Senafe to Ethiopia's border town of Zalambessa on Sunday, a day ahead of schedule, with mainly military equipment being moved today, United Nations officials said.

"It is happening throughout the whole front," said Lt. Cmdr. Albert Wong of the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea said. "They have started their redeployment on all three sectors" of the border.

The Ethiopians have until Feb. 26 to withdraw their troops from Eritrean territory. It is not known how many soldiers Ethiopia has in Eritrea, although Commander Wong said he believed the number ran into "hundreds of thousands."

Reporters in Senafe said troops from both countries remained in position in trenches in the town just 500 yards away from each other.

Ethiopian military officials said that the withdrawal had begun on Sunday and that troops were pulling back along the entire length of the border. "I would also like to confirm that Ethiopian troop redeployment has moved ahead at every strategic location along the 620-mile border with Eritrea Monday," Col. Fekade Haile said.

Some 4,200 United Nations peacekeepers are being deployed to monitor the 15-mile deep buffer zone.

The war in the Horn of Africa broke out in May 1998, when Eritrean troops took control of territory claimed by Ethiopia. Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after a 30-year guerrilla war, but the border was never properly demarcated. The war, in which tens of thousands of soldiers are believed to have been killed, ended with a peace deal last June after Ethiopian forces scored a string of decisive battlefield victories.

But arguments over which areas were under whose administration before the war began has delayed the withdrawal of troops and the deployment of the United Nations' peacekeeping mission.

The deployment is seen as a success story in the making for the United Nations after a string of troubled peacekeeping missions in Africa.

More Information on Ethiopia and Eritrea
More Information on Peacekeeping


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