Peace process could "get out of hand", says AU

Ethiopia and Eritrea were warned on Thursday that their peace process could “get out of hand” if their attention slipped in the crucial run up to demarcation. Brigadier General Elliot Kamteni of the African Union (AU) cautioned that if the “process was overlooked”, peace between the two nations may unravel.

The AU is one of the four guarantors of the Algiers Agreement, a peace deal which ended a two-year war between the two countries.

Kamteni's comments came at the latest meeting of the Military Coordination Commission (MCC), hosted on Wednesday in Nairobi, Kenya, by the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE). The MCC is the only forum where both countries engage in direct talks.

UNMEE Force Commander Major-General Robert Gordon urged both countries to ensure speedy demarcation of the border – the final phase of the peace deal. Gordon added that there was now an “unavoidable need” for dialogue between the parties and that the peace process was “worth nothing without demarcation”.

Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a bitter two-year border war that claimed tens of thousands of lives and cost millions of dollars before concluding the Algiers Agreement in December 2000. Under the accord, they agreed to set up an independent body tasked with establishing a new border. Its ruling was to be accepted as “final and binding”.

But Ethiopia is opposed to the April 2002 ruling that awards certain territories to Eritrea, in particular the frontier town of Badme and parts of the Irob area.

Eritrean military officials at the MCC spoke of their “continued frustration” at delays in the demarcation of the contested border. Demarcation has been delayed twice but is now expected to begin in October, according to the independent Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission overseeing the process.

Eritrean Brigadier-General Abrahaley Kifle said that if schedules had been kept to, the 1,000-kilometre border would have now been demarcated in full. “He [Kifle] said that demarcation should have been completed by now and called for a way to be found out of the present situation,” according to a statement released by UNMEE.

UNMEE also stated that Brigadier-General Yohannes Gebremeskel, who led the Ethiopian delegation,“stressed that his country supports the demarcation process”. Gebremeskel pledged his “full support” to the peacekeepers to ensure lasting peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea, according to the UN statement.

The next MCC meeting is due to be held on either on 15 October or 5 November 2003, UNMEE said.