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               Asmara Skyline Project - Eritrea


Reservist heads to Eritrea with a mission to uphold border truce


BANGOR, Monday, July 26, 2004 — Lt. Col. James Elliott was trained in the 1970s to be a Cold War warrior. The Army taught him to fight against America’s archenemies — Communist China and the Soviet Union.


Global politics has changed dramatically in the past 25 years. Still, Elliott, 53, of Bangor, finds it ironic that he will spend the next six to eight months serving side by side with soldiers he once considered his foes.


Elliott left on Sunday to join a United Nations peacekeeping mission in Eritrea, a country the size of Pennsylvania, in eastern Africa. The two officers of equal rank that he will work most closely with are from China and Russia.


“I think it’s going to be a blast,” Elliott said Friday. “That’s how we pull the world together and get a better understanding of each other.”


A math and science teacher for the Maine Department of Corrections at the Mountain View Youth Development Center in Charleston, Elliott learned he would be going to Africa a month ago. An Army reservist since 1982, Elliott has not been overseas in 20 years.


He will be part of a multi-national force that includes 4,500 soldiers from 20 other nations. While based in the capital, Asmara, Elliott will oversee soldiers patrolling the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia.


“My job will be to actually spend time traveling the border, going to 16 primary sites and making sure that both sides are abiding by the peace agreement,” Elliott said Friday. “On a daily basis, I’ll review all reports that come in from our 220 observers, filter them, then brief the force commander, a two-star In-dian general.”


Founded as an Italian colony in the 19th century, Eritrea was awarded to Ethiopia in 1952 as part of a federation, according the World Fact Book’s Web site. Ethiopia’s annexation of Eritrea as a province 10 years later sparked a 30-year struggle for independence that ended in 1991 with Eritrean rebels defeating governmental forces.


Independence was approved in a 1993 referendum, which left Eritrea with the border on the Red Sea; Ethiopia was landlocked. A 2½-year border war erupted in 1998. Eritrea currently hosts a U.N. peacekeeping operation that is monitoring a 15½-mile-wide Temporary Security Zone on the border.


While Elliott was packing to leave, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan released a report on the con-tinued strained relationship between the two nations.


He warned that their stalemate was a source of instability in the region and could have potentially devastating results, the Addis Tribune, a newspaper based in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, reported Friday.


“I am concerned that a relatively minor incident — one even of miscalculation — could degenerate into a very serious situation, which no one would wish for and which would be tragic for all concerned,” Annan reportedly said.


Elliott, however, was not talking as if he was entering a potential war zone.


He said Friday that in addition to his wife, Barbara, an administrator with Eastern Maine Medical Center, and his son, James, who leaves for Army boot camp next month, he will miss Maine’s colorful fall season. As an educator, he also expressed excitement about visiting schools and the university in Eritrea.


“I’m a pretty gregarious guy,” he said. “I going to be kind of like a sponge and just soak up what’s there.”