June 15, 2007 (UNITED NATIONS) — After years of conflict and a tense border dispute, Ethiopia has accepted a U.N. commission’s ruling to turn over a disputed town to Eritrea.
The Ethiopian government gave its unconditional acceptance of the commission’s decision, announced five years ago, that it return the key town of Badme to Eritrea, in a letter last week to the U.N. Security Council.
"I believe it’s good news ... that was one of the bottlenecks in the situation," U.N. associate spokesman Yves Sorokobi said Thursday. "If they do agree, it should move the process forward a bit more quickly."
The Horn of Africa neighbors initially promised to accept the boundary commission’s 2002 ruling awarding Badme to Eritrea, but Ethiopia has not handed it over.
Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993 following a 30-year guerrilla war. Ethiopian officials have long accused Eritrea of terrorist acts in Ethiopia and for lending support to insurgent groups in Somalia.
Both countries claim Badme and fought a bloody 2 1/2-year war after Ethiopian soldiers opened fire on Eritrean soldiers in the border town in 1998.
A 2000 truce agreeing to cease hostilities has made the border more peaceful, but tensions have occasionally flared to the point international observers feared a new war could break out.
Sorokobi said there have been no relations between the two sides.
The commission renewed its call for a response from the two countries last month, giving a November deadline for the implementation of its decision on the new border.
Eritrea responded to the commission’s request in May, agreeing with the decision.
Since its publication last week, there has been virtually no reaction to the Ethiopian acceptance.
Eritrea’s U.N. Mission said no one was available to comment.
"There needs to be an official reaction and to the best of my knowledge it hasn’t happened yet," Sorokobi said.
The Security Council will be in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on Friday and Saturday to meet with African Union and Ethiopian officials at the start of a five-country African mission. Sorokobi said the Ethiopia-Eritrea border issue will probably be discussed.
A 2005 U.N. resolution called for a 1,000-kilometer (620-mile) buffer zone between the two countries, but in the past year Eritrean forces have moved into the zone and have stymied efforts by U.N. peacekeepers to monitor the area. The Security Council has repeatedly called for Eritrea to lift its restrictions, including its ban on U.N. helicopter flights and night patrols.
Sorokobi said there is not much the U.N. can do to force the two parties to cooperate.
"The U.N. has not handed out any punishment to Eritrea even though it is aware for several months now," he added.
The U.N. peacekeeping force in the tense buffer zone has been reduced in the past year by 2,500 troops to 1,700. Authorization for the force expires next month, but Sorokobi said that it will likely be extended.
If the new border decision is not implemented, Sorokobi warned that "positions will probably harden."
"There has been an increase of hostile rhetoric from both parties and it’s something that has preoccupied the situation," he said.