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Ethiopia Warns Eritrea Not to Wage War Over Border

Ethiopia has warned Eritrea not to go to war over their disputed boundary, a situation Eritrea says is hypothetical.

Ethiopian Ministry of Information spokesman Zemedkun Tekle told VOA, neighboring Eritrea should talk - not fight - with Ethiopia to try to end the two countries' long-running border dispute.

"If what they are saying is, 'We [Eritrea] are going to take military action,' that is not a good option - that is not an option which brings lasting peace," he said. "Let us negotiate, let us try to solve the issue of the border conflict."

Meanwhile, Eritrean presidential spokesman Yemane Gebremeskel told VOA he would not comment directly on whether or not his country would go to war over the disputed boundary, saying that the question was, in his words, hypothetical.

But, he said, the border dispute has reached a critical point that must be resolved immediately.

"Ethiopia is occupying sovereign Eritrean territory," he said. "If one country is forcibly occupying sovereign territory of its neighbor, the situation cannot be peaceful."

The two countries had waged a bitter war over their border from 1998 to 2000, during which about 70,000 people were killed.

Under a peace agreement signed in 2000, the independent Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission was created to mark the 1,000-kilometer border, while more than 4,000 U.N. peacekeepers were dispatched to ensure stability in the border region.

The commission subsequently ruled that an area called Badme be awarded to Eritrea, a decision Ethiopia rejected last year, effectively stopping the demarcation process.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi recently announced that his country would recognize the boundary commission's ruling as part of a five-point peace plan that also calls for dialogue and improved diplomatic relations.

In a December 4 statement, Eritrea rejected Ethiopia's peace plan, saying that the demarcation of the border should not be linked to dialogue and normalization of relations. The statement sparked Prime Minister Meles to tell the press Monday that he urges his neighbor not to go to war.

Eritrean spokesman Mr. Yemane explains why his country thinks demarcation should not be linked to peace talks.

"What does Ethiopia mean by talking," he asked. "How can you renegotiate, re-discuss a court decision that both agreed is final and binding that was reached on the basis of accepted international law? Ethiopia is talking about dialogue because they do not want to implement that decision because they do not want to respect the agreement they have signed."

Meanwhile, Ethiopian spokesman Mr. Zemedkun says the border issue is part of a larger conflict between the two countries and therefore needs to be addressed using, what he calls, a holistic approach within the framework of the peace plan.