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Attempt to Resolve Ethiopia-Eritrea Border Dispute Entering Key Phase - 2003-09-15

Officials involved in resolving a long-running border dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea are preparing for what could be a key phase of the process, following an extension of the mandate of the U.N. peacekeeping force monitoring the border.

An official from the independent Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission, based at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, told VOA the border demarcation exercise will begin next month. But the official says that plan assumes the two countries cooperate, and other factors are in place. Originally, the exercise was to begin in May, then July.

The commission will oversee the placing of posts and other physical markings to divide Ethiopia and Eritrea, which shares a 1,000 kilometer border.

Ethiopia is reportedly upset with the commission's decision to put the disputed area of Badme in Eritrea.

The demarcation exercise follows the six-month extension last Friday of the term of the U.N. Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea, a more than 4,000 member peacekeeping force that has been patrolling the border since 2000.

From 1998 to 2000, the two countries fought bitterly over the exact location of the border.

There has been much worry about the relationship between the two countries, particularly over the border issue. In a report he released last week, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said he was concerned about encroachments into a security zone carved out between the two countries.

Regional analyst and consultant Moustafa Hassouna says the upcoming demarcation will be a test case for the continent. "This is not the first or last time that we are going to see situations between two African countries flare up because of boundaries. These boundaries will always be a thorny issue in the side of evolving African countries. I think this is the trendsetter for sub-Saharan African countries to best consider how best to go about issues concerning demarcations of boundaries," he said.

Mr. Hassouna says both sides must respect the commission's decision about the boundary.