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Ethiopia fakes acceptance as a ploy to renegotiate border ruling

ADDIS ABABA, November 25, 2004 (AP)  -- Prime Minister Meles Zenawi told parliament Thursday that Ethiopia has decided to accept "in principle" a disputed ruling on its border with Eritrea made as part of peace deal four years ago.

Ethiopia had until now refused to respect the April 2002 ruling by the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission, part of the Permanent Court of Arbitration based in The Hague, Netherlands.

Ethiopia still believes that the commission's finding was "illegal and unjust" but has decided that peace is more important to the country, Meles told lawmakers.

The government will start dialogue immediately with Eritrea "with a view to implementing the decision of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission in a manner consistent with the promotion of sustainable peace and brotherly ties between the two peoples," Meles said.

Meles said the dialogue will be part of a five-point plan Ethiopia wants to implement so that it can concentrate on its priorities of "development and good governance."

As part of the plan, he said, Ethiopia will pay its costs of the boundary commission - which it had refused to do until now - and allow commission staff to carry out their work on the border to prepare for the implementation of the ruling.

The prime minister said, however, that Ethiopia's acceptance of the commission's decision did not mean it would cede any territory.

The 547-member parliament voted to endorse Meles' five-point plan by 428 votes to 10, with three abstentions. One hundred and six members were not in parliament when the vote was taken.

Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a 2 1/2 year border war between May 1998 and December 2000 in which tens of thousands of people were killed.

As part of a 2000 deal to end the war, Ethiopia and Eritrea agreed to form an independent boundary commission and that its decision would be final and binding.

Eritrea accepted the April 2002 decision but Ethiopia said it disagreed with some aspects, including the awarding of the disputed town of Badme to Eritrea.

Since signing a peace deal in 2000 in Algeria, Ethiopia and Eritrea have had little contact with each other. In January U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan appointed a special envoy to try to get the two countries talking.

The envoy, former Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy, has had no success because Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki has refused to meet him, arguing the commission's decision should be implemented before his country can begin talks with Ethiopia.

Axworthy has, however, met with Meles several times.

Related story:

Ø        There is no “Acceptance in Principle” Deal,

                Boundary ruling is final, binding, no appeal


Ø      Fresh hope for Ethiopia, Eritrea peace


Ø        ETHIOPIA: Prime minister seeks to end row with Eritrea

      25 Nov 2004 (IRIN)

Ø        Ethiopia backs down over border BBC