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Ethiopian PM Urges Cooperation From Eritrea on Border Dispute

Ethiopia's prime minister says it is up to Eritrea to take the next step to resolve their long-running border dispute, following Ethiopia's acceptance of an earlier border ruling.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi told reporters in Nairobi he is, in his words, "looking forward to a positive response from Eritrea" regarding his country's acceptance last month of an earlier independent boundary commission ruling.

Prime Minister Meles said it was unfair of Eritrea to last week dismiss his country's decision to abide by the ruling.

"The foreign ministry in Asmara has described our proposal as 'hollow.' It is not an opinion that is shared by, among other entities, the European Union, by China, by Japan, and many other countries. So they are entitled to their own opinion. The point, however, is we hope that does not preclude further thinking on this issue. Even if it is hollow, I think it would be worthwhile for them to talk to us, to explain to us why it is hollow, and how we can improve on it," he said.

Ethiopia's acceptance of the border ruling is part of a five-point peace plan that Prime Minister Meles submitted to parliament last week. The plan also calls for dialogue and improved diplomatic relations.

A spokesman for the Eritrean government could not be reached for comment. But a statement released on the Eritrean Ministry of Information website on Saturday rejects any link between accepting the border ruling and other issues. The statement calls the Ethiopian proposal a "step backward" that is "unacceptable" and "contrary" to the peace agreement signed in 2000.

Still, Prime Minister Meles said Ethiopia and Eritrea have something major in common.

"We agree with Eritrea that no matter what differences we have, we do not resort to violence," he added. "Differences should not be cause for violence. Differences should be cause for dialogue. We should rule out violence as a means of resolving our disputes."

Late last month, Prime Minister Meles told parliament that his country would "accept in principle" last year's ruling by the independent Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission that an area called Badme belongs to Eritrea.

Ethiopia and Eritrea had waged a bitter conflict over their border from 1998 to 2000, during which about 70,000 people were killed.

Under the peace agreement signed in 2000, the Boundary Commission was created to mark the one-thousand-kilometer border, while more than 4000 U.N. peacekeepers were dispatched to ensure stability in the border region.

Last year, Ethiopia rejected the boundary commission's ruling, effectively stopping the demarcation effort. Eritrea had avoided subsequent negotiation efforts, saying Ethiopia had to accept the commission's ruling.

Since then, U.N. officials, analysts, and others have urged the two countries to come to an agreement over the border so as to avoid another war.