June 15, 2007 (UNITED NATIONS) — Eritrea rejected Ethiopia’s "unconditional" acceptance of a U.N. boundary commission ruling that it return a disputed town to Eritrea, arguing Friday that its agreement contained stipulations that undermined the spirit of the ruling.
In a letter last week to the U.N. Security Council, the Ethiopian government agreed to the commission’s decision, announced five years ago, that it return the key town of Badme to Eritrea. The status of the town was part of a tense, nine-year-long, border dispute.
But in its own letter to the council on Friday, Eritrea blamed the Security Council for failing to force Ethiopia to turn over Badme and "encouraging Ethiopia to flout the rule of law."
Amanuel Giorgio, a diplomat at Eritrea’s U.N. Mission, said "so far as Eritrea is concerned, Ethiopia continues to present conditionalities to the decision of the boundary commission which is final and binding."
"It’s asking the Security Council to demand that Eritrea enter into dialogue," he said. "That means reopening the decision of the boundary commission. Our reading of the letter is that Ethiopia has not yet changed its position."
No one at the Ethiopian U.N. mission was immediately available for comment.
This is the latest round of mudslinging between the two dueling nations that both 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.
The Horn of Africa neighbors initially promised to accept the boundary commission’s 2002 ruling awarding the disputed town 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.
A 2000 truce agreeing to cease hostilities has made the border more peaceful, but tensions have occasionally flared to the point that international observers feared a new war could break out.
Last week, Ethiopia harshly criticized Eritrea’s military occupation of a 1,000-kilometer (620-mile) U.N. mandated buffer zone.
Eritrean forces have moved into the zone over the past year and 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.
Eritrea also blames Ethiopia for blocking the peacekeeping mission on the border, accusing them of "harassing" U.N. personnel and engaging in a steady buildup of forces in the southern portion of the buffer zone.
There is not much the U.N. can do to force the two parties to cooperate, U.N. associate spokesman Yves Sorokobi said Thursday.
"The U.N. has not handed out any punishment to Eritrea even though it is aware for several months now," he added.
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 had been virtually no reaction to the Ethiopian acceptance until Friday.
Sorokobi said there have been no relations between the two sides.
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.
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 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.