Eritrea, Ethiopia stick to old positions after border talks


Mar 15, 2006 (KHRTOUM) — Arch-rivals Eritrea and Ethiopia on Tuesday stuck to their original positions over a border dispute despite last week’s talks in London that were expected to break a stalemate that has raised tension between them in recent months.

Eritrea said there was no progress registered from the Friday and Saturday meeting in London, while Ethiopia pledged to take part in future meetings as long as they are consistent with its so-called “five-point” peace proposal issued in November 2004 that largely called for talks on the border issue.

“Ethiopia’s peace proposal is the most realistic road map for peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea and the sole approach for success both with respect to the successful demarcation of the boundary and for normalisation of relations between the two countries,” said the Ethiopian News Agency (ENA), citing a foreign ministry statement released on Monday.

But Asmara, which has been angered by Ethiopia’s rejection of the 2002 decision by an independent border commission, said nothing had changed thus far.

“The critical point is whether there is progress on the cardinal issue: whether Ethiopia has accepted the boundary commission’s decision in good faith. The formal statement from the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry yesterday does not encourage one to think in optimistic terms,” Yemane Gebremeskel, director of the Eritrean president’s office, told reporters here.

Yemane said that the London talks, which were welcomed by UN chief Kofi Annan, discussed logistical issues regarding the demarcation, but Ethiopia seemed unwilling to change its rejection of the commission’s ruling that Asmara deemed “final and binding.”

“I don’t think Ethiopia’s rejection of the boundary commission’s decision has changed. Ethiopia is still singing to the old tune,” he said.

The commission said another meeting would be convened in April, but Yemane responded: “Why speculate about what’s going to happen in April?”

On Monday, US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton said the Security Council would likely extend for 30 days the UN peacekeeping mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) which patrols their border and whose mandate ends on Wednesday.

“To dwell on UNMEE’s duration is to miss the point,” said Yemane.

The border has remained closed to all but UN peacekeepers, and bilateral relations between the two nations that fought a deadly 1998-2000 border war, have been limited to hostile declarations.

Since Ethiopia dismissed the ruling in September 2003, both states have refused to give an inch despite a desperate search by the international community for some kind of compromise.

Eritrea has repeatedly accused Ethiopia of violating international law because the 2002 Algiers accord, which ended their devastating two-year war, that called for the ruling on the path of the border to be accepted as “final and binding” by both sides.

But Ethiopia justified its rejection by claiming the ruling violated other provisions of the peace accord concerning demographics and that the flashpoint town of Badme, which the commission attributed to Eritrea, had long been administered by Addis Ababa.

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