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Ethiopia, Eritrea Boundary Commission Suspends Work - 2003-10-30

The commission responsible for marking the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea says it has suspended its work indefinitely.

The Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission, based in The Hague, was supposed to have set up posts and other border signs to mark the 1,000-kilometer boundary between the two Horn of Africa countries by the end of October.

But it announced the demarcation exercise has been postponed indefinitely. Without giving details, the commission says: "Under the current circumstances, the EEBC is unable to proceed with activities." The commission says it is "ready and willing to proceed" as soon as conditions permit.

The exact location of the boundary was the cause of a brutal war between the two countries from 1998 to 2000, in which an estimated 70,000 people were killed. As part of the peace deal signed in 2000, the commission was to set the markers along the agreed border.

But Ethiopia was reportedly upset with the commission's decision to include an area called Badme within Eritrea's border.

Regional analyst and consultant Moustafa Hassouna said he thinks the commission has bowed to pressure from Ethiopia not to proceed with demarcation. "It is basically a step forward for Ethiopia in asserting its territorial gains," he said. "But for Eritrea and the rest of the regional community here, it is a step backwards."

Mr. Hassouna said the failure to proceed with demarcation could set a bad precedent for other African countries with border disputes of their own. He said there is a high likelihood that relations between the two countries will sour further.

"The long-term feeling probably would really take us back to the scenario of gaining hostilities between Eritrea and Ethiopia, and obviously the whole notion of a conventional war breaking out again," said Mr. Hassouna.

This is the third time in recent months that the demarcation exercise has been postponed. Demarcation was supposed to happen in May, then July. The commission has not indicated when or if the exercise will proceed.