Eritrea: High level EU visit over border issue
April 04 2004 at 02:54PM
Asmara - Eritrea welcomed the visit of a high-level European delegation due to
arrive on Sunday to try to breathe new life into the stagnating peace process
with larger Horn of Africa neighbour Ethiopia.
A number of Western leaders have visited the two countries this year in an
effort to raise international awareness of the risks posed by heightened
tensions between the two nations, whose 1998-2000 war saw an estimated 70,000
people killed in combat which often recalled the trench warfare of World War One.
"The visit shows an interest and we would expect they would bring
something tangible to move the process forward," Yemane Gebremeskel, head
of the Eritrean President's office said.
Ethiopia refused to accept the ruling of an independent
The peace process has stalled since Ethiopia refused to
accept the ruling of an independent Boundary Commission over where the disputed
1 000km frontier should lie.
Eritrea has accepted the decision of the Boundary
Commission in its entirety, but Ethiopia rejected its ruling that Badme, the
village that triggered the conflict, belongs to Eritrea.
Sunday's delegation includes Irish Foreign Minister
Brian Cowen, Dutch Development Minister Agnes van Ardenne and representatives
of the EU.
They will meet Eritrean President Isayas Afewerki on
Monday then fly to Addis Ababa to meet Ethiopian officials.
Diplomats said the peace process appears to have
4 000 peacekeepers deployed along the border
"It's completely stuck," one diplomat said.
"I'd like to be more positive but I can't. Nothing has moved over the last
Another diplomat said he doubted the international
community had the will to force a breakthrough. "There's no political
commitment to push any harder," he said.
"It's not a priority for the US, the African
Union is out of it - the only significant player left in is the EU."
Earlier this year UN Secretary General Kofi Annan
appointed the former Canadian foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy to try to
generate some momentum towards settling the border demarcation.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi received
Axworthy in Addis Ababa, but Eritrea saw in him an "alternative
mechanism" to the border Boundary Commission and refused to see him.
The UN - with over 4 000 peacekeepers deployed along
the border at a cost of over $200-million a year - has criticised both
countries, Ethiopia for not cooperating with the Boundary Commission ruling and
Eritrea for refusing to see Axworthy.
"I'm frustrated because I believed by now the
mission would have ended," said Legwaila Joseph Legwaila, head of the UN
peacekeeping mission to the two countries.