Ethiopian troops stray into UN buffer zone

United Nations – Ethiopian troops have been found inside a buffer zone intended to keep apart the once-warring armies of Horn of Africa neighbours Ethiopia and Eritrea, the United Nations said on Thursday.

The discovery of the soldiers in the zone was the latest snag in a peace process that has been dogged by lingering differences between the two countries.

A peace agreement ending their two-year border war required Ethiopia to pull back its troops to positions it held before the fighting began, and Eritrea to withdraw to 25 km from Ethiopian positions, creating the buffer zone.

UN peacekeepers verified on March 7 that Ethiopia had withdrawn all its forces from the temporary zone.

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A week later, on a routine patrol, they found Ethiopian soldiers in three different locations about six km inside the zone, southeast of the town of Senafe.

Ethiopia later acknowledged its troops had returned to the buffer zone but refused to withdraw them when formally asked to do so, according to a statement issued by the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea, known as UNMEE.

Eritrea announced earlier this month that it had missed the deadline for pulling its troops out of the zone to protest UN changes in the zone’s boundaries.

The UN Security Council last week called on Ethiopia and Eritrea to honour the commitments they made in the peace accord signed last December. The council also authorised peacekeepers to stay on for another six months.

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UN special envoy Legwaila Joseph Legwaila said last week he hoped the required pull-back would be completed in a few weeks, so that a peacekeeping force of 4 255 could be deployed along the disputed border and refugees could return home in time to plant crops this year.

Tens of thousands of soldiers are believed to have been killed during the border war which began in May 1998.

– Reuters

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