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UN: Ethiopia-Eritrea Border Dispute Could Lead to Renewed War - 2004-07-12

A U.N. official says the dispute over the exact location of the Ethiopia-Eritrea border could lead to renewed war between the two countries.

The head of the U.N. mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea, Legwaila Joseph Legwaila, added his voice to the growing chorus of warnings that the dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea over the exact location of their common border can flare up into a war.

"A stalemate is a source of instability, and instability if left untackled, of course, can lead to conflict," he said. "So, that is our worry. In other words, if the stalemate is allowed to continue, there can be another war between Ethiopia and Eritrea."

Mr. Legwaila said, for the time being, leaders of both countries have said they are committed to a peaceful resolution of the problem, and there are no unusual troop movements along the border to indicate impending hostilities.

But he said the world's patience is running thin, and the United Nations may reconsider extending its mission in Ethiopia beyond the September expiration if there is no progress.

"I am not going to threaten the withdrawal of UNMEE from the peacekeeping process they have been conducting between Ethiopia and Eritrea, but I can assure you that, if there is no progress, the Security Council will begin to think that the $200 million that we are spending annually is going to waste," he said.

Mr. Legwaila said, while the United Nations is part of the peace process in the Horn of Africa, the resolution of the border dispute is up to the two countries themselves.

Ethiopia and Eritrea waged a bitter war over their border from 1998 to 2000, during which some 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 the stability of the border.

But the boundary commission put its demarcation exercise on hold last year when Ethiopia rejected its decision to include a small area of Badme within Eritrea's border.

The United Nations had appointed a special envoy to resolve the dispute, but Eritrea refused to meet him.