Ethiopia told to withdraw settlement from Eritrea

The Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC) has ordered the Ethiopian government to stop a resettlement programme on Eritrean territory.

The statement, received by IRIN on Monday, said an EEBC investigation team had found "evidence of a recent tent settlement housing some 90 persons at a place called Dembe Mengul" in the western sector.

It said Dembe Mengul was situated "0.4 km to the west of the delimitation line" established by the Commission's border ruling of 13 April.

The order, issued on 17 July, was in response to an Eritrean letter dated 7 June urging the Commission to adopt interim measures telling Ethiopia to stop settling its nationals on "territory that has been determined by the 13 April 2002 decision to fall within Eritrean sovereignty".

"Each Party shall ensure that no further population resettlement takes place across the delimitation line," the EEBC statement said. It was issued after the two sides had met Commission officials in The Hague to discuss matters related to demarcation.

Ethiopia was ordered to "arrange for the return to Ethiopian territory of those persons in Dembe Mengul who have gone there from Ethiopia pursuant to an Ethiopian resettlement programme since 13 April 2002".

In his latest report to the Security Council on the Ethiopia-Eritrea issue, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed "concern over recent press reports regarding new settlements in the border area".

"Irrespective of where any such settlements might fall in relation to the delimitation line defined by the Boundary Commission, it is clear that the risk of misperception on either side could be high," Annan said.

He urged the parties to refrain from establishing new settlements in areas near the border "until they have been demarcated and the orderly transfer of territorial control has been accomplished".

Annan called for restraint during "this critical juncture" in the peace process.

"The successful conclusion of this process, in which the parties have invested heavily, is within sight," he said. "The continuing exercise of statesmanship on both sides will ensure that it is reached."

Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a bitter two-year border war which broke out in the western sector in 1998. They signed a peace accord in Algiers in December 2000 which provided for border demarcation.