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The BBC's Alex Last in Asmara
"For the returning civilians there is still the massive threat of landmines"
 real 28k

Friday, 30 March, 2001, 15:54 GMT 16:54 UK
Horn peace boost
Ethiopian troops pulling back
The Ethiopian withdrawal was confirmed three weeks ago
The Eritrean Government has announced that its troops will resume their withdrawal from a buffer zone along the border with Ethiopia.

Eritrea suspended their redeployment a month ago after complaining that the United Nations had altered the boundaries of the Temporary Security Zone in favour of Ethiopia.

The TSZ was agreed under a ceasefire plan that ended the two-and-a-half year conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

United Nations observers verified Ethiopia's withdrawal from the zone three weeks ago.

Several thousands Eritrean troops are still there and on 5 April when the redeploment will begin they will only need to move a few kilometres north to leave it.

Civilians

The Eritreans said in a statement that they were resuming the pullback to move the peace process forward and help the return of civilians.

UN soldier in buffer zone
The UN is ready to patrol the buffer zone
The UN has hailed the decision and is reported to have given assurances that it will investigate problems with their map of the TSZ.

Speaking from the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, the head of the UN mission, Legwaila Joseph Legwaila said: "This decision is extremely important for moving the peace process ahead". Our correspondent in Eritrea, Alex Last, says the real significance of the move is that it will enable civilians who were displaced by the war to return to their homes inside the zone during the month of April.

He says the timing is important as early rains normally arrive in April and May when farmers are able to plough and plant in their fields - but there is a huge threat from land mines laid during the fighting.

The TSZ is an area 900km (550 miles) long and 25km (15 miles) deep.

Since the peace deal was signed in Algiers in December a number of snags have arisen.

The latest was last week, when the UN said that it had seen three companies of Ethiopian soldiers six kilometres (four miles) within the TSZ.

Two commissions have been set up to sort out the border war between Eritrea and Ethiopia under last December's peace agreement and have held their first series of meetings in The Hague.

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See also:

13 Mar 01 | Africa
Is Horn peace under threat?
28 Feb 01 | Africa
Horn buffer zone hits snag
24 Feb 01 | Africa
Ethiopia says pull-out complete
18 Feb 01 | Africa
Eritrea's pull-back begins
13 Feb 01 | Africa
Relief as Ethiopian troops leave
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