Ethiopia to maintain troops on disputed border with Eritrea

Ethiopia will maintain a "proportional force" on the disputed border with Eritrea in an effort to discourage the neighboring country for starting a new war, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said Tuesday. "If the Eritrean government believes that it can ensure victory, there is no doubt it will do what it can to wage a war. The only alternative is to show the Eritrean government they will not win anything if a war is started," Meles said in a report to parliament that laid out the government's priorities for the coming year.

"In this respect we have to show that there is proportional force and until a lasting peace has been secured this will continue," Meles said a day after the fifth anniversary of a peace deal that has failed to resolve a border dispute between the Horn of Africa nations.

Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after a 30-year guerrilla war.

Concerns were mounting that war could again erupt between Eritrea and Ethiopia, which fought a 1998-2000 war for territory that claimed tens of thousands of lives and cost both countries, two of the world's poorest, an estimated US$1 million (Ђ840,000 million) a day. In recent months, both countries have been massing troops near the border and Eritrea has been restricting the work of U.N.

peacekeepers. Officials are angry that the United Nations has failed to force Ethiopia to withdraw its troops from a town to Eritrea by an international commission set up under the 2000 peace agreement. The U.N estimates that since December, Ethiopia has moved around eight divisions, some 50,000 men, and tanks, missiles and other military hardware to the border. Diplomats estimate around 380,000 troops are entrenched along the 1,000-kilometer (600-mile) frontier, around 130,000 on the Ethiopian side and 250,000 on the Eritrean side.

On Saturday, Ethiopia's Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin announced it would pull back troops in compliance with a U.N order. As of Tuesday, there was no confirmation the pullback had begun.

Last week, Eritrea ordered the expulsion of nearly 200 American and European peacekeepers, a move the U.N force said could cripple its capabilities. The nearly 3,300-strong peacekeeping force is composed of peacekeepers and military observers from some 40 countries. The largest contingent, with more than 1,500 troops, is from India. On Oct. 5, Eritrea banned helicopter flights by U.N. peacekeepers in its airspace in a buffer zone with Ethiopia. It then banned U.N. vehicles from patrolling at night on its side of the zone, prompting the U.N. to vacate 18 of its 40 posts.

"The Eritrean government is making efforts to worsen the situation around the border," Meles told lawmakers.

Despite repeated appeals from the U.N. Security Council and secretary-general, Eritrea has refused to lift these restrictions. Last month, the council passed a resolution warning of possible sanctions unless Eritrea lifts restrictions on the U.N. peacekeepers and the two sides reverse the worrisome troop buildup, reports the AP. I.L.

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