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Last Updated: Saturday, 11 March 2006, 23:41 GMT
Progress at Horn of Africa talks
By Martin Plaut
BBC Africa editor

Ethiopian troops along Eritrean border
The two countries fought a trench war of attrition
Talks to end a border dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea have ended with what diplomats are describing as a measure of progress.

The conflict sparked a war that ended six years ago after some 76,000 deaths.

An international tribunal ruled on the border in 2002 but Ethiopia refused to let it be demarcated without further discussion and Eritrea objected.

Now a meeting has taken place in London between the two states along with US and United Nations representatives.

The talks, chaired by the international tribunal that decided where the border should run, brought together legal representatives from Ethiopia and Eritrea.

They were held with the blessing of the UN Security Council, which had urged the countries to resume a dialogue.

This impetus from the international community appears to have helped break the deadlock.

'Small step forward'

Ethiopia indicated that it now accepts the tribunal's ruling without reservations.

Dec 2000: Peace agreement
Apr 2002: Border ruling
Mar 2003: Ethiopian complaint over Badme rejected
Sep 2003: Ethiopia asks for new ruling
Feb 2005: UN concern at military build-up
Oct 2005: Eritrea restricts peacekeepers' activities
Nov 2005: UN sanctions threat if no compliance with 2000 deal

Eritrea for its part accepted the appointment of a technical expert to assist in the demarcation of the border.

Both countries will allow the demarcation process to resume where it left off some years ago.

Field offices will be opened, liaison officers appointed and security arrangements put in place.

And further talks are scheduled to be held in London in April.

But there is still much to do.

Both sides now want to consult with their respective capitals.

The UN asked Eritrea to lift restrictions on the operations of its 7,000 peacekeepers strung out along the border but Eritrea has not yet reacted. A small step forward, was how one diplomat described the process.

But even this is a major achievement in a dispute that the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, has repeatedly warned has the potential to provoke a renewal of hostilities at any time.


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