Ethiopia & Eritrea
Eritrea and Ethiopia "beating the war drums again"

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Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin

«UN triggering yet another round of war.»

Minister Seyoum Mesfin

afrol News, 22 November - Even if the UN insists the border zone between the two countries, recently at war, remains calm, the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments and press keep exchanging allegations and propaganda. War talk on both sides is getting louder. 

This week, Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin appealed to the UN to stop Eritrea's destructive activities inside the Temporary Security Zone (TSZ) established 25-km deep inside Eritrea. The Ethiopian government reported Eritrean deployments of nearly 30,000 regular troops in the zone. The minister, after filing his complaint to the UN in New York, returned to Ethiopia and even hardened the allegations against Eritrea in front of the domestic press.

According to ENA, Ethiopia's official wire service, Minister Seyoum on returning to Addis Ababa said, "Appeasing Eritrea serves no good other than triggering yet another round of war." He said the fact that the UN has been engaged in urging both countries to implement the peace accord should be stopped. He further said Ethiopia has been implementing the agreement in accordance with the provisions stipulated, adding that the UN should tell Eritrea to abide by the principles it had ratified.

ENA reported that the policy of appeasement would no longer serve the interest of Ethiopia that has been consistent with its principled positions. "The UN should call a spade a spade and put effective pressure on Eritrea that has been challenging the good will of the international community," according to Seyoum. Eritrea was "preventing the free movement of the UN peacekeeping mission inside the buffer zone," the foreign minister said.

These allegations were quickly denied by the UN peacekeepers, UNMEE, reporting that the TSZ "remains stable and calm." In a statement released jointly in Asmara and Addis Ababa, the UNMEE spokesman said the UN mission had undertaken "immediate investigations including ground and air reconnaissance patrols in all three sectors of the TSZ and has found no indication of an Eritrean military build-up."

UN media yesterday complained over "unsubstantiated press reports" in Ethiopia. Noting that allegations of major troop build-ups and accusations of appeasement "do not help the cause of peace," UNMEE urged restraint by both parties. ENA, which predominantly reaches out to an Ethiopian audience, has so far published the UN's response to the Ethiopian allegations. 

However, UNMEE leader Legwaila Joseph Legwaila already last week told the Ethiopian press, "We have found nothing to suggest that the Eritrean Army is on alert." He further made a point of that "the two parties accuse each other of all sorts of things," but that the UNMEE was investigating all accusations, but still not had found proof of any Ethiopian or Eritrean troops crossing the border or being on alert.

According to Eritrean officials, it is the Ethiopian side that slows down the peace process. "The major impediment to further progress remains Ethiopia's refusal to provide the UNMEE with operationally useful information on its minefields," Eritrean Commissioner for Coordination with the UNMEE, Andebrhan Weldegiorgis, said in New York yesterday. "Almost a year and a half after the signing [of the Algiers cease fire], the core provisions of the Agreement remain outstanding due to Ethiopia's non-compliance," Weldegiorgis on Tuesday told UNMEE representatives.

Weldegiorgis claims the Ethiopians have refuses to remove its army to below the agreed Southern Line of the TSZ, as agreed to in December 2000. "The presence of the Ethiopian army as deep as 13kms inside the TSZ has prevented more than 55,000 internally displaced people from returning to their villages," he claims. Further, Ethiopia had rejected the establishment of a direct air corridor between Addis Ababa and Asmara, Ethiopia still blocks the exchange of prisoners of war, and Ethiopia was "pursuing a declared policy of subversion, looting and hostilities in the TSZ." 

However, Weldegiorgis forgot to mention that over 170,000 Eritreans displaced by the war already had returned to their homes, most of them to the TSZ. "The fact that most of the internally displaced people have returned to their home areas is significant," UNMEE spokesman Jean-Victor Nkolo told the press on Monday. He also confirmed that mine clearance indeed was taking place in the buffer zone.

Eritrean media claim Ethiopia is "beating the war drums again" (Sophia Tesfamariam yesterday in 'New Asmarino') and that the UN is not clear enough in rejecting Ethiopian-made obstacles to the peace process. 

In Ethiopia, Tigrinya language newspaper Wogahta on 18 November even reported an "Eritrean invasion of sovereign Ethiopian territory." The news was further spread by the Deki-Alula Ethiopian Online Newsletter in English under the title "Eritrea invaded Ethiopia", claiming that, "Backed with heavy artillery and tanks, Eritrea invaded and controlled areas north of Badme." 

The "news" on an Eritrean invasion of Ethiopia was quickly ridiculed by an Eritrean government official speaking with the Eritrean opposition web site. Ethiopian officials have not commented on the headline. 

Last week's call by the UN Security Council "asking the two neighbours to use a more flexible approach to the peace process with a view towards strengthening the significant progress made so far and improving their relations," goes unnoticed in Ethiopian-Eritrean media, seemingly fuelled by their governments. UNMEE leader Legwaila however claims his " mission is doomed to succeed" as both "parties want it to succeed."

Sources: Based on Ethiopian and Eritrean press reports, UN sources and afrol archives

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