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Ethiopia urges negotiations over Eritrea border dispute

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March 2, 2007 (UNITED NATIONS) — Ethiopia’s president urged the international community to bring Ethiopia and Eritrea together to negotiate a solution to their border dispute, which was the cause of one war and remains a barrier to peace between the Horn of Africa neighbors.

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President Girma

Girma Wolde-Giorgis said after decades of war, his country wants to develop its resources and bring its more than 75 million people out of poverty. He pointed with pride to over 10 percent economic growth for the last three years and promised "it’s going to be even better."

"Right now, we’ve got five big dams under construction and we have reached a stage where we can export electricity to our neighboring countries," he said.

"We have no time for fighting," Wolde-Giorgis said in an interview. "We hope Eritreans will choose to be at least our good neighbor. ... But if they choose animosity, we are very sorry, but we have to watch out. We are not afraid of being threatened but neither are we (going to) ignore situations that might arise."

Relations between Eritrea and Ethiopia have been consistently strained since Eritrea gained its independence from the Addis Ababa government in 1993 following a 30-year guerrilla war. The border between the countries was never officially demarcated, which led to a 2 1/2-year war that ended in 2000.

Under the cease-fire agreement that ended the fighting, both sides agreed to allow an international boundary commission rule on the disputed border. The commission ruling in April 2002 awarded the key town of Badme to Eritrea — but Ethiopia has refused to hand over any territory.

Wolde-Giorgis called the commission’s decision "a mistake" because it didn’t take into account the wishes of the people in border villages. "Therefore, even if we accept it, we know that it will not be guaranteed for the peace to come," he said.

In apparent frustration and anger at Ethiopia’s refusal to implement the ruling and the U.N.’s failure to exert pressure, Eritrea has restricted the operations of the U.N. peacekeeping force monitoring the tense 1,000-kilometer-long (620-mile-long) buffer zone between the two countries. Eritrea has also said there is no reason for negotiations.

"They don’t want the peace to exist," Wolde-Giorgis said. "They know very well that that decision will not make the region peaceful, because they don’t like to have peace to take place. And we can’t afford to have war. We want to have peace."

What’s the solution?

"The solution is the international community should try to bring us together and negotiate," he said. "Only through negotiation this problem could be solved."

The Ethiopian president, who spent 20 years in Eritrea, said he likes the country and people and hopes the two countries "can at least be good friends and good neighbors."

"I’ve not lost hope at all — it will happen," he said.

Wolde-Giorgis came to New York to be the keynote speaker at the 25th anniversary tribute to Orbis International, whose flying eye hospitals have brought sight to millions around the world — including in Ethiopia. He arrived on a day that the first troops of an African peacekeeping force — from Uganda — arrived in Somalia to help the country’s fragile government establish stability.

Asked about Ethiopia’s decision to send troops to help Somalia’s weak transitional government oust the Council of Islamic Courts that had held the capital and much of the south for six months, Wolde-Giorgis said his government’s prime reason was to promote stability and peace.

Ethiopia hopes Somalia’s transitional government "will be wise enough" to consult all the warlords and elders and ensure that a democratic government is installed in the country.

"Both in Somalia and Ethiopia, we cannot effectively fight poverty and develop our resources if we don’t have guaranteed peace," Wolde-Giorgis said. "We hope they will work toward that — and the signs are very good."

(AP)

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