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Sunday, 18 June, 2000, 09:58 GMT 10:58 UK
Analysis: What the peace deal means
Wounded Ethiopian soldier
Ethiopians in Eritrea are to be replaced by peacekeepers
By BBC News Online's Justin Pearce

In the Algiers peace deal, Ethiopia appears, for now, to have got what it wanted: the presence of a peacekeeping force within Eritrean territory, pending a final demarcation of the disputed border.

The peace settlement does not say so in so many words - but the implication is clear.

(Click here to read the full text of the OAU proposal.)
Peace proposal
Ethiopian troops withdraw to pre-May 1998 positions
Eritrean troops withdraw 25km from Ethiopians
UN peacekeepers between the two armies

Ethiopia has to withdraw to positions it occupied before the start of the war two years ago. Eritrea has to withdraw so as to leave a 25-km buffer zone between its troops and the Ethiopians - and this buffer zone will be filled by the peacekeepers.

In other words, the peacekeepers will occupy a zone 25 km(15 miles) wide, almost all of it on undisputed Eritrean territory - a demand made by Ethiopia following its military victories during May this year.

At the same time, disputed pieces of territory - such as Badme - which were under Ethiopian administration before May 1998 will continue to be patrolled by Ethiopian troops.

When Eritrea accepted the peace proposal last week - before the details had been made public - it said it was making a temporary withdrawal in the interests of lasting peace.

The agreement points out that this interim deployment of forces is not to be prejudicial to the eventual settlement - but the presence of its own troops in places like Badme will give Ethiopia at least a psychological advantage as the mediation process begins.

Re-drawing the border

The OAU proposal also offers some hints - albeit ambiguous ones - about how the border will be arbitrated. The document restates the OAU's position on borders as follows:
Eritrean soldiers
Eritrean troops must withdraw 25km from their border

"Respect for the borders existing at independence as stated in resolution AHG/Res 16(1) adopted by the OAU Summit in Cairo in 1964 and, in this regard, determine them on the basis of pertinent colonial treaties and applicable international law."

For most African countries, "independence" means independence from the former colonial power. Generally speaking, if two neighbouring African states were to declare a territorial dispute, the OAU would look to the colonial treaties to determine where the border ran in colonial times - and therefore where the border ran at the time of independence.

Eritrea never became independent from its former colonial power, Italy. The Italians were expelled during World War II - after that war, Eritrea was handed over to Ethiopia.

Shifting frontier

By the time of independence from Ethiopia, the border had shifted from what was described in the colonial treaties - this is what has given rise to the territorial dispute which sparked the war.

If the meditators abide by the OAU principle of "respect for the borders existing at independence", they may feel obliged to take into account the boundaries of Ethiopian administration at the time of Eritrean independence - which extend beyond the boundaries laid out - however ambiguously - in the colonial treaty.

However, the OAU principle also emphasises that the appropriate treaties must be taken into account.

A delimitation purely on the basis of the colonial boundaries would favour Eritrea's case - so it is no surprise that Eritrean arguments have always made much of the importance of the treaties.

Ethiopian officials have always maintained that an eventual territorial agreement should not be based solely on the colonial border.

UN role

Eritrea wanted the UN to drive the peace process, while Ethiopia favoured the OAU. The planned deployment of a UN force operating under the auspices of the OAU therefore offers a neat compromise.

The UN itself has not formally endorsed the OAU proposal - though it is unlikely that the OAU would have negotiated a proposal that involves large-scale UN involvement without being reasonably certain of the UN's compliance.

The involvement of the UN also has practical advantages. It means that the peacekeeping force - expected to be about 2,000 troops - could potentially draw on the experience of peacekeepers from countries outside as well as in Africa.

The UN also has more muscle than the OAU when it comes to enforcing the agreement.

Should either side fail to comply with the redeployment plan, the agreement empowers the international commmunity to take "appropriate measures" in terms of chapter VII of the UN charter - which range from sanctions to military action.

See also:

12 Jun 00 | Africa
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12 May 00 | Africa
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