Ethiopia says it wants talks, not war with Eritrea

Ethiopia on Tuesday said it had no plans to go to war with rival Eritrea over their disputed border, and again urged Asmara to pull its troops back and begin dialogue over marking the frontier.

Ethiopia’s comments came a day after the watchdog International Crisis Group (ICG) warned the two Horn of Africa nations could easily slide into a repeat of their 1998 to 2000 border war which killed 70 000 people.

“Ethiopia has no desire to go to war with Eritrea. Its expectation is to try and resolve the crisis in a peaceful and legal manner,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wahade Belay said.

Wahade said Ethiopia wanted Eritrea to pull its soldiers out of a 25km buffer zone on the Eritrean side and stop restrictions it has placed on 1 700 peacekeepers from the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE).

“For the crisis to end, Eritrea has to pull out its troops ... restore the right of UNMEE to patrol the border,” he said.

The Eritrean government had no immediate comment.

The two countries have been deadlocked over demarcation of the 1 000km border since an independent commission awarded the town of Badme to Eritrea in 2002, under terms of a peace deal signed at the end of the war in 2000.

The commission, frustrated by the intransigence of both parties, has given the two countries until November 30 to demarcate the border or else it will let it stand as it decided.

Last week, Eritrea thrice accused Ethiopia of planning to invade, an allegation Addis Ababa has dismissed as fabrication.

ICG warned that war may break out in a matter of weeks unless the international community puts pressure on both sides to halt any belligerent actions.

Ethiopia has 100 000 troops on the border, and Eritrea has 4,000 inside the buffer zone with 120,000 nearby, ICG said.

As Washington’s top ally in the region, Ethiopia is seen as having a fairly free hand against Eritrea, ICG said.

Eritrea on the other hand has such poor relations that the United States is considering putting it on a list of state sponsors of terrorism for its backing of militant Somali Islamists to frustrate Ethiopia, allied with interim Somali government.
- Reuters

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