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Tuesday, 12 December, 2000, 22:01 GMT
Eritrea and Ethiopia: A difficult peace
Eritrean schoolchildren
Joy at the peace agreement - but what next?
By the BBC's Martin Plaut

The Ethiopian and Eritrean decision to sign a peace agreement is an enormous step forward in resolving the conflict between the two nations.

The war, which broke out in May 1998, cost tens of thousands of lives.

But signing an agreement will not repair the once close relations between these two neighbours.

For a start the UN Cartographic Unit, which has to demarcate the border has an enormous task.

The border is 1,000 km long, and contains some of the driest, hottest and most hostile territory in the world.

Colonial agreements

The demarcation will take into account the treaties signed between Ethiopia and Italy at the start of the 19th centuary, but these are not entirely clear, and contain elements that will be far from easy to interpret.

Some towns in the disputed area were wrecked
Some areas of both countries have been traditionally administered from each other's territory, and this will further cloud any decision on where the border lies.

The border commission, which will have to adjudicate between the two sides, will have its work cut out if it is to resolve the disputes that are likely to arise.

Border patrols

The task of overseeing the border is due to be undertaken by a United Nations force, whose personnel are still arriving.

By early January most of the 4,200 troops allocated to the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (Unmee) are due to arrive in the area.

Unmee force commander Major General Patrick Cammaert
Unmee force commander Major General Patrick Cammaert
Their tasks received a boost at a meeting in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, when the Military Co-ordination Commission succeeded in agreeing on a formula for the redeployment and rearrangement of forces on both sides.

The meeting, chaired by Major-General Patrick Cammaert, Force Commander of Unmee, also agreed to open two additional land routes which are now scheduled to be open on Thursday 7 December.

This agreement and the peace treaty itself are signs that both Ethiopia and Eritrea wish to put the war behind them.

But achieving a workable relationship between the two countries will require that these first steps are built on by both sides.

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See also:

30 Oct 00 | Africa
Eritrea confronts the future
24 Oct 00 | Africa
Horn of Africa appeal
28 Sep 00 | Africa
UN monitors optimistic on border
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