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US Concerned Over Possible New Ethiopia-Eritrea Violence - 2004-01-22

The United States expressed concern Wednesday about a possible renewal of hostilities between Ethiopia and Eritrea. The State Department warned that such a development would have "dire consequences" for the Horn of Africa nations in terms of their relations with Washington.

The written statement volunteered to reporters here was a reflection of frustration among U.S. and other diplomats about the troubled peace process between the two east African neighbors.

Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a devastating two-year border war ended by a peace accord signed in Algiers of 2000.

But settlement efforts have stalled with Ethiopia contesting elements of a ruling by an independent commission that was to finalize demarcation of their thousand kilometer border.

The statement by State Department spokesman Adam Ereli did not single out either party for criticism.

But he said the Algiers accord must be respected "without qualification," and noted that both Eritrea and Ethiopia had agreed to accept, unequivocally, the boundary commission's decision as final and binding.

He said boundary decisions should be implemented peacefully, fully and without delay and that as the process moves forward, direct communication between the two countries which have broken off talks, will be imperative.

Mr. Ereli expressed concern the stalemate might lead to renewed hostilities, which he said would have "dire consequences" for the people of the two countries in terms of relations and programs with the United States, an apparent reference to U.S. aid.

Earlier this week in Addis Ababa, Britain's senior diplomat for Africa Chris Mullin urged an "act of statesmanship" by the Ethiopian leadership to break the deadlock, and warned that major powers had not ruled out sanctions as a means of compelling the parties to implement the peace deal.

He said it is difficult for the outside world to understand the struggle over very small demarcation differences, and urged the two countries to recognize that their real enemy is poverty.