09/02/08 (B434) BBC / Les Nations unies craignent une reprise des combats entre l’Erithrée et l’Ethiopie. Des troupes ont été envoyées à la frontière. UN fears new Horn of Africa war (Info lecteur -En anglais)

Troops have been sent to the border region, the UN says

A new conflict could break out between Eritrea and Ethiopia, the UN says, as it prepares to withdraw its troops.

The UN gave a Wednesday deadline for Eritrea to restore fuel supplies to the peacekeepers on its side of the border, or it said they would have to withdraw.

A UN spokesman told the BBC on Thursday that UN personnel had not yet begun relocating from Eritrea though fuel supplies were still not being allowed.

Tens of thousands of people died in the two countries’ 1998-2000 border war.

“Clearly the signs point towards a resumption of the conflict,” UN spokesman Yves Sorokobi told the BBC.

“We know that troops are being amassed in the Temporary Security Zone between Eritrea and Ethiopia,” said Mr Sorokobi, UN chief Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman.

“We know the rhetoric has been warlike and increasingly so. All this bodes ill for peace in the region,” he told the BBC’s Network Africa programme.

‘Regrettable’

But the BBC’s Elizabeth Blunt in the Ethiopia capital, Addis Ababa, says that senior UN officials there are convinced that neither side really wants war.

Some 1,400 UN troops and 200 military observers are in the region to monitor a peace deal signed in 2000.

TENSE BORDER
Dec 2000: Peace agreement
Apr 2002: Border ruling
Mar 2003: Ethiopian complaint over Badme rejected
Sep 2003: Ethiopia asks for new ruling
Feb 2005: UN concern at military build-up
Oct 2005: Eritrea restricts peacekeepers’ activities
Nov 2005: UN sanctions threat if no compliance with 2000 deal

Eritrea wants the international community to put pressure on Ethiopia to withdraw from the town of Badme, which the Boundary Commission set up after the war awarded to Eritrea.

But Mr Sorokobi said the peacekeepers were not there to impose a settlement on the two sides – only to monitor them.

He said it was not possible for the peacekeepers to work without fuel.

“It is most regrettable that… peacekeepers cannot be allowed to maintain peace.”

He noted the peacekeeping operations were only being hampered by the Eritreans, not the Ethiopians.

They have had to reduce their patrols, there have been problems with supplies and communications, and they have only been able to run generators for a short time each day.

Our correspondent says that if they do pull out, it would have to be by road, since Eritrea has banned the use of UN helicopters in its airspace.

From many locations the easiest way out would be across the border into northern Ethiopia, but it is not clear whether the border would be opened to allow them to leave.