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Last Updated: Thursday, 31 July, 2003, 21:43 GMT 22:43 UK
Horn of Africa peace 'in danger'
By Damian Zane
BBC, Addis Ababa

The head of the United Nations mission overseeing the Ethiopia-Eritrea peace process, Unmee, has said it is in danger without political dialogue between the two countries.

UN peacekeeper looking across border
The UN wants Eritrea and Ethiopia to start a political dialogue
Unmee organises a regular military meeting between the two sides, but there has been no official political contact since the signing of the peace deal two-and-a-half years ago.

Legwailah Joseph Legwailah said he was very dissapointed and unhappy about last week's dispute over the identity of corpses left on the battlefield, which Unmee handed over to Ethiopia for burial.

Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, he said that the handover of bodies was a humanitarian operation, and he thought that at least the parties could put their differences aside for this.

But, he added, the misunderstanding was typical in a situation where there was no communication, and revealed a bigger problem.

"The logic of peace which is promoted by dialogue is not there. We are still dealing with the logic of war," Mr Legwailah said.

He said that the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan was "very anxious that at least someone must persuade these people, (Eritreans and Ethiopians) to start dialogue".

Border dispute

The next stage in the peace process is the twice-delayed demarcation of the border, which is now due to begin in October.

But Ethiopia, and significantly the political leadership in the border region, still refuse to accept that the symbolic town of Badme, where the conflict began, is in Eritrea, as the boundary commission has decided.

Mr Legwailah said that even if demarcation was completed and all the border posts were in place, no talking spells trouble.

"Imagine that the last pillar is planted - the UN is withdrawn - the two parties are still polarised, not talking to each other! That endangers the peace between them because misunderstanding can lead to conflicts," he said.

So what are the chances of dialogue? On the surface, it seems they are not good. Last week, Ethiopia described the actions of the Eritrean Government over the soldiers' corpses as "shameful".

And Eritrea's representative in Addis Ababa said attempts to get the sides together was like flogging a dead horse.

Horn border row worries UN
04 Apr 03  |  Africa
Eritrea warns Ethiopia on border
04 Apr 03  |  Africa
Ethiopia regrets Badme ruling
03 Apr 03  |  Africa
Badme: Village in no man's land
22 Apr 02  |  Africa
Border a geographer's nightmare
12 May 00  |  Africa
Q&A: The Horn's bitter war
12 Apr 02  |  Africa

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