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Eritrea-Ethiopia: Border Tense Despite Troop Pullouts, Says UN
Addis Ababa December 27, 2005 (IRIN) - The disputed frontier between Ethiopia and Eritrea remains militarily "tense and potentially volatile" despite a pull back of some troops, the United Nations said on Friday.
Azouz Ennifar, deputy head of the UN peacekeeping mission in the region, said Ethiopia had made "a significant withdrawal" although further clarification was needed on troop pullouts by neighboring Eritrea .
His comments come at the end of a 30-day deadline for compliance with a UN Security Council order aimed at easing tensions along their disputed 1,000 km frontier.
"The deadline for compliance with the whole Security Council resolution is today," Ennifar said from the UN peacekeeping headquarters in Ethiopia . "We have not seen any change on demarcation and until now no change on the restrictions."
The Security gave the two neighbors three conditions. Ethiopia was to take immediate concrete steps to allow a boundary commission to begin demarcation of its contested frontier.
Eritrea was to lift helicopter and vehicle restrictions on peacekeepers. Both countries also faced demands to pull back their troops to December 2004 levels.
The UN mission now has a further 10 days to report to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan ahead of a Security Council meeting to review compliance in January.
Ennifar said if there was a "positive move" by either side over the next 10 days they would be "delighted to take it into account".
The Brussels-based think tank, the International Crisis Group, said urgent action was needed to defuse tensions between the two nations.
"The stakes could hardly be higher," it said. "With a costly two-year war now followed by nearly five years of stalemate, patience on both sides of the border has worn thin, and there are worrying signs that the countdown to renewed conflict may have begun."
"Neither side appears eager for war, but to dismiss the tensions as mere saber-rattling could mean missing the last chance to preserve peace in the Horn of Africa," it added. "Resumption would destabilize the entire Horn, fuelling flows of weapons to armed groups throughout the region, rekindling a proxy war in Somalia and undermining the fragile peace process in southern and eastern Sudan ."
Since October, Eritrea has banned UN helicopter flights and other vehicle movement at night on its side of a 15-mile buffer zone at the border. On 6 December, Eritrea gave the UN 10 days to pull out some peacekeepers.
On Monday, an international commission in The Hague ruled that Eritrea had triggered the 1998 war when it attacked its neighbor.