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Thursday, July 15, 1999 Published at 19:13 GMT 20:13 UK

World: Africa

Suspicions follow Ethiopia-Eritrea agreement

A year of conflict has cost thousands of lives

Ethiopia and Eritrea have again questioned each other's commitment to peace - less than 24 hours after a new deal raised hopes of a settlement in their 14-month border conflict.

[ image:  ]
Eritrea's President Isaias Afwerki said on Wednesday that he accepted an Organisation of African Unity "framework agreement" for a ceasefire and withdrawal of troops from disputed areas.

But Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi cast doubts over Eritrea's commitment to the plan.

Ethiopia - Eritrea conflict
"We have to see if Eritreans are going to accept it without buts and ifs," he said.

The Eritrean president in turn told the London-based Arab newspaper Al-Hayat that Ethiopia "does not wish to commit itself to any document, at the African summit or elsewhere, in order to move towards the peace which we - in front of everyone - expressed our desire to achieve".

One Kenyan diplomat highlighted the downbeat mood.

"They don't even seem able to agree on what they have agreed to," he said.

"They are both likely to interpret the fine print of the plan in very different ways."

Agreement in principle

[ image: Meles Zenawi:
Meles Zenawi: "We have to see if Eritreans are going to accept it without buts and ifs"
Earlier this year, Ethiopia and Eritrea both accepted in principle an OAU ceasefire plan, but could not agree on the practicalities of its implementation.

The agreement was revised during the recent OAU summit in Algiers, where both sides came under diplomatic pressure to resolve their differences.

OAU Secretary-General Salim Ahmed Salim said both sides had agreed to the revised deal and further mediation, but admitted "there are different interpretations".


[ image: Isaias Afwerki: Ethiopia
Isaias Afwerki: Ethiopia "does not wish to commit itself"
The two Horn of Africa neighbours went to war on 6 May 1998, each accusing the other of invading.

Since then, Ethiopia has demanded a withdrawal from land it says Eritrea has invaded. Eritrea argues that it has not invaded Ethiopian territory, but merely reclaimed land which was rightfully its own in terms of colonial border treaties.

The framework agreement requires both sides to agree a ceasefire and begin redeploying troops immediately after the fighting stops. Both would have to sign a formal ceasefire agreement first.

Eritrea would commit to withdrawing its forces from territory it occupied after 6 May 1998. Ethiopia would pull back its forces from positions taken after 7 February 1999.

Eritrea and Ethiopia would also have to accept OAU military observers, working with the UN, to supervise troop redeployment.

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