UN special envoy officially appointed

Former Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy has been officially appointed UN special envoy to help defuse the standoff between Ethiopia and Eritrea. A statement released by Secretary-General Kofi Annan's spokesman on Friday said Axworthy would help to overcome the current deadlock in their peace process.

"The Secretary-General has been very concerned about the lack of progress in the implementation of the Algiers Agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea," it said. "In order to help move the process forward, the Secretary-General offered his good offices to the two parties, and has appointed Lloyd Axworthy, former foreign minister of Canada, as his special envoy for Ethiopia and Eritrea. The Secretary-General hopes that, in carrying out this important assignment, the Special Envoy will enjoy the full cooperation of all parties concerned."

UN Security Council President Heraldo Muñoz "welcomed" the appointment and called on both countries to cooperate with Axworthy in his role.

Axworthy's appointment follows widespread speculation as to whether he would take up the role after being offered the post in December. Eritrea had said it was "opposed to any new mechanism" to help resolve the border dispute, but did not mention Axworthy by name. Ethiopia has welcomed the appointment of Axworthy, 63, as the special envoy, saying it is committed to a peaceful resolution of the dispute.

Axworthy, a father of three, now heads the Liu Institute for Global Issues, a Canadian think-tank at the University of British Columbia. He was Canada's foreign minister during the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, and at the time urged both sides to resolve the conflict through the Organisation for African Unity, now the African Union.

The three-year-old peace process between Ethiopia and Eritrea ground to a halt, coinciding with the stalling of the physical demarcation of their new 1,000-km border when in April 2002 when Ethiopia rejected a ruling by the international boundary commission defining the new frontier. Eritrea, meanwhile, has refused to engage in talks with its neighbour until the border has been demarcated in accordance with the boundary commission's ruling.

Axworthy, a former nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize, has said his role will involve initiating a dialogue that might serve to break the deadlock and normalise ties between the two neighbouring countries which have been in the doldrums ever since their war ended with the peace deal in December 2000. Attempts by the international community to improve relations and initiate dialogue have so far failed.

The announcement of Axworthy's appointment comes amid mounting diplomatic pressure on both leaders to accept the boundary ruling and engage in talks. The British foreign minister for Africa, Chris Mullin, has called on the Ethiopian prime Minister to embark on an "act of statesmanship" by accepting the disputed boundary ruling. He warned that patience was running out among the international community over the stalemate.