Page last updated at 13:36 GMT, Thursday, 31 July 2008 14:36 UK

Eritrea allays fears over new war

UN lorry crosses border from Ethiopia into Eritrea. File photo
The UN has already withdrawn most of its peacekeepers from Eritrea

Eritrea says the UN's decision to end the peace mission on its border with Ethiopia will not make war likely.

Tens of thousands of people died in a two-year border war that ended in 2000.

A government spokesman said the UN mission had only been "symbolic" and diplomatic efforts to remove Ethiopia from Eritrean soil would continue.

Eritrea withdrew its support for the UN peace force in February as it was angered by Ethiopia's refusal to comply with an international border ruling.

On Wednesday, the UN Security Council voted to end its 1,700-strong mission, known as Unmee.

In April, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned of a possible return to war if the peacekeepers pulled out of Eritrea and Ethiopia.

'No impact'

Eritrean government spokesman Yemane Gebremeskel said the termination of the UN mission mandate was "long overdue" and would have little impact on the region.

Legally Ethiopia's occupation of Eritrea is untenable
Yemane Gebremeskel
Eritrean government spokesman

"Unmee's presence was really symbolic, it was not a peace enforcement force, it does not have the capability of deterrent - so it's not going to have any impact," he told the BBC's Network Africa programme.

He said that the job of delimiting and demarcating the border between the two countries had been finished, so the UN's mission should end.

But he added that Ethiopia continued to occupy Eritrean territory.

"Legally Ethiopia's occupation of Eritrea is untenable - it cannot be accepted by the international community - I think our focus has been on the legal end and the diplomatic dimensions of the issue," he said.

Before Wednesday's UN Security Council vote, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said he thought a return to hostilities unlikely.

"The peacekeepers played an important role, but one cannot say that their role was irreplaceable in the sense of maintaining the relative peace along the borders that we now have," he told the BBC.


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