Ethiopia plays down fears of war with Eritrea

July 31st, 2008 | by addis portal |

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – Ethiopian officials played down fears Thursday that the country would begin a war with neighboring Eritrea following a decision to dissolve a UN peacekeeping force along their common border.

The UN Security Council voted Wednesday to end a 1,700-strong force known as UNMEE monitoring a 620-mile (1,000-kilometer) long buffer zone between the Horn of Africa neighbors.

“War is not in our vocabulary, unless Eritrea invades our territory,” Ethiopian Foreign Ministry spokesman Wahide Belay said. “In Ethiopia’s view, war is not an option at all, unless Eritrea violates the territorial integrity of Ethiopia.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned in April that a new war could break out if peacekeepers were to withdraw entirely from along the disputed border, and urged Eritrea to restore the UN’s ability to patrol its side of the border.

Ban wrote Monday cautioning the council that “the risk of escalation of tension in the border area and a resumption of hostilities, by accident or design, following the withdrawal of UNMEE remains a reality.”

Eritrea and Ethiopia have been feuding over their border since Eritrea gained independence in 1993 after a 30-year guerrilla war. The UN entered under a 2000 peace agreement that ended a 30-month border war in which at least 70,000 people died.

Ethiopia has refused to accept an independent boundary commission’s ruling in 2002 to award the key town of Badme to Eritrea.

But Wahide said his landlocked country would continue to push for a peaceful resolution. In November, the international commission charged with demarcating the border gave up, citing lack of cooperation from both sides.

“We want to assure the international community that Ethiopia, as always, is ready to resolved this impasse created by Eritrea through peaceful means,” Wahide said. “We will continue to cooperate with the U.N. to resolve this.”

But Wahide declined to say if the Ethiopian government would change its military tactics to anticipate future threats along the border.

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