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Ethiopia | Eritrea

Ethiopia accuses Eritrea on termination of UN mission

afrol News, 31 July - Ethiopia has today blamed archrival Eritrea for prompting the United Nations to end its peacekeeping mission to supervise the two neighbours' disputed boundary line.

The UN security council yesterday, on the eve of the mission's expiry, voted to stop 1,700 UN forces' operation (UNMEE), along Eritrea and Ethiopia's common border, after the mission was seen to have "failed", increasing dangers of a new Ethiopia-Eritrea war.

Ethiopian officials have today played down fears that country would begin a war with its neighbour, following UN's decision to dissolve mission. Tens of thousands of people died in a two-year border war that ended in 2000.

"Eritrea is solely responsible for UNMEE's termination. Asmara has repeatedly violated the Algiers agreement and placed unacceptable restrictions on the mission," Ethiopia's information minister, Birhan Hailu told media.

UN council's decision came in response to crippling restrictions imposed by Eritrea on operation of UNMEE and Ethiopia's refusal to recognise a binding verdict by an international boundary panel that granted flashpoint border town of Badme to Eritrea.

Mr Hailu is said to have called for talks to resolve disputed border over which the two countries fought a bitter 1988-2000 war that killed some 70,000 people.

"We believe that the only way for a solution to be reached is through dialogue. We call on Eritrea to refrain from any aggression," he said.

But reports show that Asmara, which claims that UN sides with Ethiopia in the dispute, has repeatedly accused Addis Ababa of failing to abide by the 2002 border ruling and bracing for a new war.

UNMEE was tasked since 2000 with monitoring the tense Eritrean-Ethiopian border along which a total of some 200,000 troops from both sides are now deployed, fueling fears of a new blaze.

Since barring UNMEE from conducting helicopter flights and limiting its night ground operations in 2005, Eritrea has stepped up its restrictions, which some diplomats saw as a bid to put more pressure on international community to force Ethiopia to accept boundary decision.

Meanwhile, Eritrea says UN's decision to withdraw from the disputed region will not make war likely. A government spokesman, Yemane Gebremeskel, said UN mission had only been "symbolic" and diplomatic efforts to remove Ethiopia from Eritrean soil would continue.

Eritrea withdrew its support for UN peace force in February as it was angered by Ethiopia's refusal to comply with an international border ruling.

In April, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned of a possible return to war if peacekeepers pulled out of Eritrea and Ethiopia.

Mr Gebremeskel said termination of UN mission mandate was "long overdue" and would have little impact on the region.

"UNMEE's presence was really symbolic, it was not a peace enforcement force, it does not have the capability of deterrent, so it's not going to have any impact," he told media.

He said that job of delimiting and demarcating border between the two countries had been finished, so the UN's mission should end.

But he also added that Ethiopia continued to occupy sovereign territory and the UN Security Council was not talking about it.

Eritrea-Ethiopia dispute is part of a set of regional tensions that extends into Somalia, where Ethiopian troops are supporting an interim government, and into Djibouti, whose forces clashed with Eritrean troops last month. Both countries feuded over their border since Eritrea gained independence in 1993 after a 30-year guerrilla war.

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