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ETHIOPIA-ERITREA: No movement in stalled peace process - UNMEE

NAIROBI, 9 September 2004 (IRIN) - The United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) said on Thursday there was "no light at the end of the tunnel" in the stalled peace process between the two countries. It added that that there had been little movement over their contested 1,000-km border.

"Nothing has changed," the UNMEE deputy spokesman, George Somerwill, told journalists ahead of a UN Security Council meeting to review and renew the mandate of the 4,000-strong force. The Council is expected to meet in mid-September.

"The Security Council is extremely important to the issues involving Ethiopia and Eritrea," Somerwill told a video-linked briefing between Addis Ababa and Asmara, the capitals of the two countries. The Council, he added, would remain "very actively involved" in trying to forge a permanent peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

The spokesman said Legwaila Joseph Legwaila, the special representative of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the region, had left for New York to brief the Council. He was accompanied by the new UNMEE Force Commander, Maj-Gen Rajender Singh.

In his last report to the Council on the region, Annan had warned that a "protracted stalemate" could cause instability, and urged the international community to remain committed. He noted that under the current scenario "questions are increasingly being raised about the long-term effectiveness of UNMEE and its future configuration on the ground".

Somerwill said the general situation in UNMEE's mission area, which includes a 25-km wide buffer zone between the two countries, remained "militarily stable" and that "no significant changes in troop locations or dispositions were reported during the last week."

On Tuesday, UNMEE said it was disappointed that the Eritrean government had reimposed restrictions of movement along a crucial supply route for its peacekeepers. It said it had received a letter from the Eritrean authorities saying they could no longer use the Asmara-Keren-Barentu road.

The restriction on using the road had been imposed in March, but was lifted last month after high-level interventions and calls from the UN Security Council. Its renewed closure means key supplies to peacekeeping troops in western Eritrea would take an extra 10 to 12 hours to deliver.

UNMEE arrived in Ethiopia and Eritrea in 2000 after a two-and-a-half-year border war, which is estimated to have claimed 70,000 lives. Around 4,000 peacekeepers and civilian staff monitor the buffer zone. A ceasefire between the two countries was reached under a peace deal signed in December 2000 in Algiers, where they agreed to set up an independent boundary commission to end tensions over their border.

The ruling by the Eritrea Ethiopia Boundary Commission was, however, rejected by Ethiopia as flawed. Its main contention was that the Ethiopian-administered town of Badme – where the May 1998 war first flared up – had been awarded erroneously to Eritrea. Last year, the commission announced it was suspending its work. Eritrea argues that demarcation should start, but no date has been set.

Theme (s): Conflict,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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