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Thursday, November 03, 2005

Eritrean, Ethiopian Troops Mass Near Border, Fan War Concerns

Bloomberg -- Thousands of Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers have massed along their 620-mile frontier, increasing the chances of a renewed war between the northeastern Africa countries, the United Nations said.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan is ``extremely concerned'' about movement of ``small and large military and paramilitary formations, and movement of armor as well as aerial defense assets,'' the UN said in a statement released in New York. Annan urged both sides to withdraw and called on the Security Council to ``take decisive steps to defuse'' the situation.

The escalation began a month ago, when Eritrea ordered the grounding of all UN helicopters monitoring the buffer zone between the two nations. The Eritrean government, which blames Ethiopian incursions along the border for the restriction, added limits on what roads UN vehicles can use in the area.

The UN in September 2000 authorized deployment of 3,293 soldiers and military observers along the frontier, whose exact course was in dispute after Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993. The restrictions forced the UN to abandon 18 of 40 outposts in the buffer zone.

A border war from May 1998 through 2000 killed as many as 100,000 people, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch.

Greece, a current Security Council member, has circulated a draft resolution demanding that Eritrea ``reverse immediately'' all restrictions on UN troops.

``The people and government of Eritrea cannot be blamed for the grave situation that faces our region today,'' Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki said in an Oct. 28 letter to the Security Council. ``Current attempts by the Security Council to blame Eritrea are unwarranted, both legally and politically.''

The letter said Ethiopia is occupying Eritrean territory and that ``our people have been held hostage, condemned to live in makeshift camps, under traumatic physical and psychological conditions.''

Neither officials at Ethiopia's mission to the UN nor its embassy in Washington were available to comment.

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