A meeting of the Military Coordination Commission (MCC), due to be held on 10 January, has been delayed because Eritrea and Ethiopia disagree over the venue.
Ethiopia has indicated its refusal to meet at the Mereb River bridge on the border between the two countries where the previous meeting was held. Eritrea, for its part, wants to meet again at the Mereb River and has rejected proposals to hold future meetings in Asmara, Addis Ababa or the Kenyan capital Nairobi.
The MCC, which is chaired by the commander of the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE), meets periodically to discuss and evaluate the military situation in the Temporary Security Zone (TSZ) separating the two armies, and adjacent areas. Analysts note it is also a forum whereby the military of both sides can talk to each other.
UNMEE spokesman Jean Victor Nkolo told IRIN on Tuesday the issue was a minor one and he was confident that a common ground would be found. He hoped that the 11th meeting of the MCC would go ahead later this month. "This is a technical delay," he said. "The peace process is on track. It is not the MCC that is in question, simply the venue of the meeting."
He listed possible locations as Nairobi, the Mereb River bridge or Djibouti where previous MCC meetings have been held. Neither had Asmara and Addis Ababa been ruled out, he said. "If the meetings could be held in the two capitals, this would be a further confidence-building measure at this crucial time in the peace process," he pointed out.
This is not the first time that an MCC meeting has been delayed. There have been three or four postponements in the past, and Nkolo said the force commander Major-General Patrick Cammaert was sparing no effort to resolve the latest hitch.
Ethiopia and Eritrea signed a peace agreement in Algiers in December 2000 following a costly two-year border war.