Ethiopia-Eritrea commission ends, border unresolved
Posted 1st December 2007
By Alexandra Hudson
AMSTERDAM, Nov 30 (Reuters) – An international commission charged with setting the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea dissolved itself on Friday, leaving the two states who fought a border war that killed some 70,000 people to work it out alone.
Thousands died in World War One-style trench warfare in the 1998-2000 clash between the Horn of Africa neighbours and, according to the United Nations, the two sides have again amassed thousands of troops and artillery at the frontier.
The Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission, part of Permanent Court of Arbitration, fulfilled its mandate of determining the border in 2002. But a deadline for the two states to demarcate the boundary expired on Friday, with neither complying.
“Until such time as the boundary is finally demarcated, the delimitation decision of 13 April 2002 continues as the only valid legal description of the boundary,” the commission said in a statement on Friday.
Tensions between the countries have ratcheted up in recent weeks with the approach of the deadline to physically mark the 1,000-km (620-mile) frontier.
Asmara and Addis Ababa have been at odds over the border since the boundary commission gave Eritrea the flashpoint town of Badme in 2002.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi dismissed the commission’s deadline and called its demarcation ruling “legal nonsense”, but tried to allay concerns that a new border war could break out. “We will never, ever go to war with Eritrea, unless there is full scale invasion,” Zenawi said on Thursday. “I do not think that the Eritrean government would launch a full scale invasion, because it would be suicidal for them.”
Last November, the commission said it was fed up by the lack of progress with the border and gave both nations one year to make moves to mark the frontier or it would fix it on international maps.
The United Nations and the United States have urged both countries to show restraint, and analysts were at odds over whether further violence might ensue.
“I don’t think the commission will stop the drift towards some sort of conflict,” said Patrick Smith, editor of the London-based Africa Confidential newsletter.
However, David Mozersky of the International Crisis Group think tank said he did not think the border commission’s end would trigger a move from either side, adding both countries were still bound by the terms of the internationally-brokered peace agreement which ended the war.
On Thursday, the U.S. State Department said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will visit Ethiopia next week for meetings on the conflicts in the region.
Rice is scheduled to meet leaders from the African Great Lakes region — Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda — in Addis Ababa on Dec. 5.
(Additional reporting by Tsegaye Tadesse in Addis Ababa; Editing by Ibon Villelabeitia)
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