June 1, 2006

Ethiopia scolds Eritrea over U.N. border scaledown

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopia heaped blame on its
neighbor Eritrea on Thursday for an impasse over their disputed
border which has provoked the United Nations into trimming its
peacekeeping force there by nearly a third.

"Had it not been for Eritrea's belligerence and adamant
positions, the crisis would have been resolved much earlier,"
senior government minister Bereket Simon told Reuters.

He was responding to a U.N. Security Council vote on
Wednesday to reduce troops in Ethiopia and Eritrea to 2,300
from the current 3,300. The forces are policing a ceasefire
after a 1998-2000 war that killed at least 70,000 people.

As part of a 2002 peace agreement, both countries agreed to
accept a new border marked by an international commission.

But once delineated, Ethiopia rejected the border and
insisted on more talks. As the dispute dragged on, Eritrea
imposed restrictions on peacekeepers' movements and operations,
including a ban on helicopter flights over its territory.

"Ethiopia has repeatedly called on Eritrea for dialogue
which Eritrea has rejected," Bereket, a minister without
portfolio, added in a telephone interview.

"Ethiopia believes the solution lies in bringing Eritrea
into constructive engagement with its neighbors."

Eritrean officials could not immediately be reached for
their reaction to the U.N. vote.

But Asmara has repeatedly said Ethiopia should not be
allowed to row back from its previous acceptance of the
boundary commission, and believes the international community
is favoring Addis Ababa by not applying pressure.

The United States had proposed reducing the U.N. force to
1,800, linking the cutbacks to fulfillment of a long-stalled
request by Secretary-General Kofi Annan for reinforcements in a
separate peacekeeping mission in Ivory Coast.

But Russia and Britain, among others, fought for less deep
cuts, arguing that too few troops could endanger a shaky peace
in the Horn of Africa region.