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Sunday, 24 February, 2002, 23:12 GMT
UN envoys upbeat after Horn tour
Ethiopian soldiers near the town of Zalambessa
Ethiopia and Eritrea fought for two years over the border
By the BBC's Elizabeth Blunt in Asmara

United Nations Security Council envoys have ended their visit to the Horn of Africa in Asmara, the Eritrean capital.


We're encouraged by the readiness and the eagerness on both sides

Ole Peter Kolby, UN team leader
They were visiting the region ahead of an announcement by an independent boundary commission which has been trying to establish the exact border between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Border disputes in the late 1990s led to a bloody war between the neighbours and former allies.

The Security Council members received a noticeably warmer welcome in Eritrea than they had on the Ethiopian side of the border.

Map

More senior figures were involved in the meetings and during their visits to the Eritrean border areas crowds were mobilised to welcome them.

When they met Eritrean President Isayas Afewerki he greeted them with cordial handshakes and emerged at the end of the meeting smiling, unlike his Ethiopian counterpart.

But although the Security Council members say they have got what they came for - a clear commitment by both leaders that they will respect the boundary commission's decision - the assurances on both sides of the border were hedged with conditions.

Pressure

Mr Afewerki said he would certainly accept the decision since it would be based on colonial treaties - a way of determining the border which would favour the Eritrean position.

President Afewerki
President Afewerki says he will accept the ruling

The Ethiopian leader Meles Zenawi is understood to have told the council members that he would certainly accept a judicial decision on the border, but not a political one, which also allows for a certain amount of interpretation.

But both leaders are under pressure from their own people who lived through the trauma of a very savage war - they cannot be seen to be giving up what they fought for.

The border decision is expected at the end of March, and then the real test will be not what the leaders say, but what they do.

See also:

12 May 00 | Africa
Border a geographer's nightmare
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