Global Policy Forum

Ethiopia-Eritrea: Deadlock over Border Ruling Drags on

UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
March 22, 2004

Eritrea has reiterated its opposition to the appointment of a UN special envoy tasked to help break the deadlock affecting the peace process with Ethiopia, the United Nations said on Thursday.

Eritrean Brig-Gen Abrahaley Kifle rejected international calls for Eritrean officials to meet newly appointed Special Envoy Lloyd Axworthy, according to the UN. Abrahaley's rebuff came just days after the UN Security Council had urged Asmara to meet the former Canadian foreign minister to try and move the stalled peace process forward. Axworthy visited the region in February, but failed to secure a meeting with Eritrean President Isayas Afeworki.

After their two-year border war ended in 2000, Ethiopia and Eritrea agreed to form an independent boundary commission, but Ethiopia subsequently rejected the commission's April 2002 ruling as "unjust and illegal" and called for talks. Eritrea insists that any discussions can only be held after the new border has been demarcated.

A statement issued by the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) quoted Abrahaley as saying that the time was right for demarcation to be implemented but not for appointing special envoys. The statement was issued after top Ethiopian and Eritrean military officials met at a Military Coordination Commission (MCC) meeting in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, on 15 March.

During the meeting, the UNMEE commander, Maj-Gen Robert Gordon, said that despite concern on the part of the international community over the military situation, he believed it to be stable. He also brought up the issue of restrictions imposed by both countries on the movements of his 3,800 Blue Helmets along and around the 25-km-wide security buffer zone. Abrahaley said the restrictions imposed by the Eritrean authorities would remain in place pending an investigation.

Also speaking during the MCC meeting, Ethiopian Brig-Gen Yohanes Gebremeskel appealed to the international community to help in overcoming the current impasse over the border, urging it "to also seek the views of the ordinary people who will be affected by demarcation", according to the UNMEE statement. "It is easy to create problems, to be hostile. The challenge is how to become rational and how to contribute positively," he added.

Earlier, the UN Security Council extended UNMEE's six-month mandate due to concerns that the deadlock could exacerbate tensions between the two countries. It also called on Eritrea to "engage constructively" with Axworthy and to take steps towards in normalising relations with its neighbour. The Council also expressed concern that Ethiopia had rejected "significant parts" of the boundary commission's ruling and that it had not adequately cooperated with the commission. The Council called on UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to "keep under review" the effectiveness of UNMEE and to adjust and streamline its operations as needed. The next MCC meeting - which is the main forum where face-to-face talks are held between Ethiopia and Eritrea - will be held in Nairobi on 10 May.

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