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Ethiopia, Eritrea Trade Blame on Boundary Dispute


Ethiopia and Eritrea are blaming each other as a commission set up to adjudicate their border dispute prepares to finish its work without finding a mutually acceptable settlement. VOA's Peter Heinlein reports the commission's closing raises the prospect of an uncertain future and rising tensions along the disputed frontier.

The Ethiopia-Eritrea Boundary Commission has sent a final report to the United Nations, regretting that it could not take its work through 'to its full conclusion' during seven years of existence.

A copy of the report obtained by VOA indicates that, at a meeting last month, the two sides showed no movement toward a settlement of their dispute. The reports says Commission President Elihu Lauterpacht reminded both sides that an earlier ruling on border demarcation would become effective late next month, when the commission ends its work.

The commission was established in 2000 at the end of a two-year border war that killed 70,000 people. The Algiers accord that ended the fighting committed both sides to accept the commission's decision as final and binding'

But two years later, when the commission awarded the contested border town of Badme to Eritrea, Ethiopia rejected the decision.

The commission's final report has not been made public, but already the two sides are exchanging verbal salvos, accusing each other of responsibility for the lack of agreement.

A statement posted on the Eritrean Ministry of Information website this week claims the Boundary Commission had explained that it was unable to carry out its work 'due to the Ethiopian government's non-compliance.' The statement accused Ethiopia of raising what were described as 'totally irrelevant, extraneous excuses' for its reluctance to agree to border demarcation.

Ethiopia replied with its own statement on the web. It notes that the Commission recognized Ethiopia's full commitment to the demarcation process, and accuses Eritrea of violating the Algiers accord by moving troops into a 25-kilometer Temporary Security Zone.

Ethiopia's Foreign Ministry spokesman Wahide Belay says actual demarcation cannot take place until Eritrea complies fully with the Algiers accord.

"Ethiopia cannot be blamed for any impasse that takes place," said Belay. "We have said we are ready for demarcation, but demarcation can only take place when the Algiers Agreement is fully respected by Eritrea, so the ball is now fully in Eritrea's court."

Meanwhile, tensions along the border are said to be as high as they have been in years. Military observers in the region are reporting troop movements on both sides, as the rivals prepare for a possible resumption of hostilities.