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Thursday, October 20, 2005

Ethiopia Moves Troops to Eritrean Border

CNN.com -- Ethiopia's prime minister said on Saturday he had moved more troops to the border with Eritrea since December to prevent any "miscalculation" by its old foe in an escalating border row.

In a sign of rising tensions, a tough-talking Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said his army had reinforced Ethiopia's already heavily defended border with Horn of Africa neighbor Eritrea as a precautionary measure.

Eritrea imposed a ban on U.N. reconnaissance flights over the disputed 1,000-km (620-mile) border on October 5, fuelling fears the tiny Red Sea state was trying to hide troop movements to prepare for a new war against Ethiopia.

"We have taken measures and beefed up our defense capabilities around the border since December to prevent any miscalculation by the other side," Meles told reporters.

It was his first public comment on the border dispute since Eritrea imposed the flight ban.

It was unclear whether the military build-up Meles referred to was over and above the 48,000 soldiers his army deployed last December.

That move was criticized by the United Nations, although U.N. peacekeepers said on October 6 they had seen no sign of fresh troop deployments on either side of the border.

Defending national pride, Ethiopia and Eritrea went to war over a border of scrubby plains and dusty villages in 1998, sending soldiers to die in World War One-style trench warfare. By the time the conflict ended in 2000, 70,000 people were dead.

Asked by reporters if he was willing to meet Eritrean President Isayas Afwerki, Meles said: "I have no problem talking to anybody so long as it helps the purpose of peace."

He said Eritrea's restrictions on U.N. flights violated a cease-fire agreement signed by the two countries in 2000 and urged the U.N. Security Council to enforce it.

"We are still hopeful that the other side (Eritrea) will not miscalculate," he added.

Under a 2000 peace treaty, both sides agreed to accept an independent commission ruling on where the border should be as "final and binding".

After first rejecting the decision which awarded the flashpoint town of Badme to Eritrea, Ethiopia said late last year it accepted the decision in principle but first wanted dialogue with Eritrea about the root causes of the conflict and how to implement the boundary decision.

Eritrea refused and last month warned the United Nations it may rekindle war with Ethiopia if the world body failed to resolve the deadlock.

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