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Saturday, 13 April, 2002, 13:30 GMT 14:30 UK
Eritrea-Ethiopia border defined
About 80,000 lives were lost in the border war
Proposals for a new border which could end years of conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea have been handed over by an international arbitration commission.

About 80,000 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands more displaced in the fighting between the two countries.

Both sides have promised to respect the judgement by a five-member panel of judges, treaty experts and international jurists at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.

But much will depend on which nation gains control of three key areas along the 1,000km (620 mile) border where the heaviest battles of the war were fought - Badme, Zalambessa and Bure.

The commission will not unveil its border map publicly until Monday, leaving the two countries two days in which to examine the maps and reveal the findings if they wish to do so.

But an Ethiopian official, speaking anonymously to the Reuters news agency, said his country had been awarded all the territory it had claimed, including Badme, Zalambessa and Bure.

Fighting broke out in May 1998 when Eritrea - which won independence from Ethiopia in 1993 - invaded territory Ethiopia considered within its national borders.

Peace deal

After months of heavy fighting, Ethiopian troops captured much of the smaller country's prime agricultural land.

Eritrea, which has a population of 3.5 million compared to Ethiopia's 65 million, agreed to end hostilities in June 2000.

We paid so much sacrifice to chase the Eritreans from these places, how can anyone hand them over to Eritrea?

Ethiopian petrol station attendant Betru Kassa
A peace deal was signed six months later and set the terms for the border commission.

But relations have remained strained and the United Nations has 4,200 peacekeepers patrolling a buffer zone around the disputed areas.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has urged the two countries to honour their commitments to accept the plan.

"Once the commission's decision is known, it is imperative that the two countries implement it without delay," he said in a joint newspaper article with Amara Essy, Secretary-General of the Organisation of African Unity.

The UN envoy to the region, Legwaila Joseph Legwaila, was optimistic about the outcome of the ruling by the panel of three Americans, a Nigerian and a Briton.

"It is no longer about accepting this decision because they have agreed that it will be binding and final," he said.

"Hopefully it will open a new chapter of peaceful relations."

Colonial maps

Lawyers for each side presented the panel with maps and treaties dating back to the colonial era at the turn of the last century to support their claims to the fertile farmland.

Correspondents say the decision is bound to be controversial and both sides believe it will be in their favour.

So many people were killed in the fighting, that passions run high.

An Ethiopian petrol station attendant, Betru Kassa, told the Associated Press news agency: "We paid so much sacrifice to chase the Eritreans from these places, how can anyone hand them over to Eritrea?"

See also:

12 Apr 02 | Africa
Tense Horn awaits border decision
07 Mar 02 | Africa
Horn border ruling delayed again
24 Feb 02 | Africa
UN envoys upbeat after Horn tour
06 Feb 02 | Africa
Ethiopians await border results
14 Dec 01 | Africa
All quiet on Eritrea's frontline
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