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Ethiopia / Eritrea: UN Security Council decides upon withdrawal of peace-keeping force

The planned withdrawal of UN peace-keeping force increases the danger of war on the Horn of Africa

Bolzano/Bozen, Göttingen, 30. May 2006

The Society for Threatened Peoples (GfbV) warned on Tuesday of the danger of a new war between Ethiopia and Eritrea if the UN Security Council decides on the withdrawal of half the peace-keeping force stationed on the border between the two hostile countries. "A withdrawal of the UN force would be irresponsible at the present time and would give the wrong signal to the conflicting parties, who are evidently not able without international assistance to resolve the tension", warned the GfbV in a letter to the President of the UN Security Council. The human rights organisation drew attention to the fact that the murderous static warfare between the two states has cost between 1998 and 2000 more than 100,000 lives and warned: "Instead of turning away in disappointment the international community should once again increase its pressure on the conflicting parties in order to reach a peaceful solution to the border disputes." Ethiopia and Eritrea are fighting not only about the control of a few desert areas, but also about the military and political hegemony in the region.

The UN Security Council must decide by Wednesday evening on the future of its involvement in the Horn of Africa. The USA above all, following the failure of negotiations between the two states in May in London, called for a clear reduction in the size of the peace-keeping force and also a limitation of their mandate. In line with this the size of the peace-keeping force on the buffer zone along the frontier, 24 kilometres wide and running 600 miles, is to be reduced by half and the soldiers are to have only the function of observation. "But with only 1,500 soldiers this frontier cannot be properly controlled", warned the GfbV.

Both Ethiopia and Eritrea are under such internal pressure that there is a great temptation to meet these tensions with a new war against the neighbouring country. It was only at the end of April 2006 that Ethiopia's Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, publicly accused Eritrea of being responsible for more than a dozen dynamite attacks in Ethiopia. In both countries the democratic opposition is under massive oppression, the freedom of the press, of opinion and of meeting in public being totally disregarded.

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