November 24, 2005

UN says Ethiopian troops occupied buffer zone

By Tsegaye Tadesse

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - The United Nations said on Thursday
Ethiopian troops had occupied a demilitarized buffer zone set
up to separate Ethiopian and Eritrean armies, in a move likely
to raise tension along their volatile border.

Ethiopian soldiers occupied the Eastern sector of temporary
security zone (TSZ) -- buffer zone -- for five days from
Saturday until Wednesday, a spokeswoman for the U.N. Mission in
Ethiopia and Eritrea said.

There was no immediate comment from Ethiopia.

Nearly 3,300 U.N. peacekeepers monitor the buffer zone as
part of the 2000 peace accord ending Ethiopia and Eritrea's
two-year border war that killed more than 70,000 people.

"The Ethiopian troops, which numbered about 20, said they
entered into the TSZ because they were concerned after U.N.
troops vacated the strategic location," Gail
Bindley-Taylor-Sainte told reporters.

Peacekeepers movements have been restricted since October 5
when Eritrea banned U.N. helicopter flights and other
activities, resulting in around 60 percent of peacekeepers
withdrawing unable to do their work.

The spokeswoman said the Ethiopian troops were stationed
about five kilometers from the Ethiopian border on the
Bure-Bada road, considered by military experts to be a highly
strategic position due to its high altitude.

Recent military maneuvers involving troops, tanks and air
defense missiles on both sides of the unmarked 1,000-km
(620-mile) frontier have fueled fears of a repeat of the war.

Sainte said due to the troop movements in and around the
buffer zone, the military situation remained tense and
potentially volatile, adding that she hoped a U.N. Security
Council resolution would make a difference.

The Council on Wednesday called on both countries to draw
down their military forces facing each other across the buffer
zone within 30 days and urged the Eritrean government to end
its restrictions on peacekeeping activities.

The Security Council also expressed "grave concern" that
Ethiopia had failed to fully accept the binding ruling of an
international commission on the disputed border.

The measure expressed the council's "determination to
consider further appropriate measures," including economic
sanctions, if either side failed to comply.