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U.N.: Ethiopia, Eritrea should accept new boundary

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UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -- The U.N. Security Council called on Ethiopia and Eritrea on Friday to fully accept an independent panel's marking out of their disputed border after a two-year war between the Horn of Africa neighbors.

A resolution adopted unanimously by the 15-nation council also extended for another six months, until Sept. 15, the mandate of the U.N. mission keeping peace along the border area.

The council acted after U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan reported to it earlier this month that Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin had expressed serious reservations about the commission's work and threatened to reject its work if their concerns were not addressed.

Annan, in a March 6 report to the council, said he had written to both Zenawi and Eritrean President Isayas Afewerki pledging to help them carry out any transfers of territory that might be required as a result of the commission's findings.

"The peace process is now at a critical stage," Annan wrote. He called on both sides to hold to earlier commitments to accept the commission's work.

"The parties should seize this unique opportunity to consolidate the peace between them," Annan wrote.

The disputed border was the main cause of the bitter war between Ethiopia and Eritrea. The two agreed in a December 2000 peace accord to let a new frontier be set out by an independent panel in The Hague, Netherlands.

The five-member commission issued its decision in April 2002 after reviewing some 200 maps submitted by the two sides. Then came the more difficult process of carrying out the panel's findings on the ground.

The council resolution expressed full support for the commission's work and called on both sides to begin talks with Annan's staff "so that they reach agreement on the timing and modalities of territorial transfer."

It also urged both countries to refrain from unilateral troop or population shifts, including setting up any new settlements near the border, until after demarcation was completed.

Annan said the commission was due to complete marking out the border in November.

The U.N. mission, comprising nearly 4,200 peacekeepers, monitors a 15-mile-wide (25-km-wide) buffer zone that runs along the border and includes the disputed territory.

Annan's report said the situation along the border was generally calm these days although tensions have been raised by Ethiopian herdsmen who regularly violate the buffer zone by grazing their cattle in it.

But ties between the two nations remain bitter, with raw memories on both sides of the deaths of about 70,000 people, many of them in trench warfare reminiscent of World War I. Some 300,000 Eritreans fled their homes during the fighting.

The war broke out in May 1998 when Eritrea invaded territory that Ethiopia considered within its boundaries.

Eritrea, whose 3.5 million people became independent from Ethiopia's 65 million people in 1993, claimed the land was its own.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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