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Thursday, 21 February, 2002, 11:34 GMT
Security Council heads to the Horn
The town of Zalembessa on the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea
Tens of thousands died in the border war
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By Nita Bhalla
BBC reporter in Addis Ababa
line
The UN Security Council is expected to arrive in Addis Ababa on Thursday evening in an attempt to calm rising tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea, who are emerging from a bitter two and half year border conflict.

The 15 member council, led by Ambassador Ole Peter Kolby of Norway, will be visiting the two neighbours to address the ongoing peace process between the two neighbours, on the eve of a ruling on where the official border lies, which is due at the end of March.

The disputed 900 kilometre border was the source of the Ethio-Eritrea conflict in May 1998 in which tens of thousands lost their lives in fighting and more than one million were displaced from their homes.

Although Ethiopia and Eritrea signed the OAU brokered Algiers peace agreement in December 2000, suspicion and mistrust still dominate the political agendas of both governments.

Critical time

Speaking at a press briefing at UN Headquarters in New York, Ambassador Kolby said all 15 members of the UNSC would take part in the visit, which in itself was testimony to the importance attached to the mission.

"This is a very critical time in the promising peace process between Ethiopia and Eritrea. The upcoming determination by the [Hague] Boundary Commission and its implementation are pivotal steps towards building a comprehensive and lasting peace," said Ambassador Kolby.

Singing and dancing in Asmara (pic: Jorge Aramburu/UNMEE)
Religious leaders have visited both capitals to urge peace

A UN Peacekeeping Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (Unmee) was established in September 2000 and a 4,200 strong peacekeeping force is currently deployed along a buffer zone between the countries, know as the Temporary Security Zone (TSZ), to ensure both sides respect the cease-fire.

While in the region, the UN Security Council hopes to underline the international community's commitment to contribute to the completion of the peace process and will address the implementation of the Boundary Commission's decision.

Border

The main areas of contention are Badme in the western sector and Zalambessa in the central sector.

There is widespread speculation that if either side does not agree with the results of the Boundary Commission, there could be another round of conflict.

The UN Security Council will also take up the issue of mine clearance, in preparation of the physical demarcation of the border, as well as confidence building measures such as the release of all remaining prisoners of war and civilian internees.

The council members are scheduled to meet Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in Addis Ababa on Friday and with President Isaias Afewerki in Asmara, Eritrea, on Sunday.

The mission will also have meetings with diplomatic missions and civil society in the two capitals and visit the TSZ, which covers an area of approximately 22,599 square kilometres.

Tension

But just two days before the UN Security Council's visit, comments made by Ethiopia's Premier Meles Zenawi appear to have increased tensions.

Ethiopian returnee building a home
Little rebuilding is going on until the border decision is made

Mr Meles told Reuters news agency he could not imagine a worse leader than Eritrea's President Afewerki and said improved relations with Ethiopia depended upon his being replaced.

Diplomats in Addis Ababa have described these comments as "unhelpful".

"I don't think that his comments are conducive to the peace process. He should at least attempt to be a little more positive," said one diplomat who wished to remain anonymous.

Eritrea, with a population of 3.5 million, is a former province of Ethiopia which has a population of 65 million, and gained independence in 1993, after a 30 year liberation struggle.

There are currently no telecommunications, trade and transport ties between the two countries.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Elizabeth Blunt
"The war which tore Ethiopia and Eritrea apart attracted almost universal condemnation"
See also:

15 Feb 02 | Africa
Horn border ruling delayed
06 Feb 02 | Africa
Ethiopians await border results
14 Dec 01 | Africa
All quiet on Eritrea's frontline
02 Nov 01 | Africa
Eritrea critic denies conspiracy
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