German President Horst Kohler made an impassioned plea on Monday for peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea, saying neither of the two countries could afford another war over their unresolved border dispute.
"The most important reason why wars should not happen is because wars are against the interests of the people," Kohler, former head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), said in Addis Ababa on the first day of his four-day visit to Ethiopia. "In Eritrea, as in Ethiopia, there is poverty.
"Both countries - both peoples here in this region can’t think that war is in their interest," Kohler continued. "Therefore, I do think the desire for peace will and should come mainly from the people in the region."
Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a two-and-a-half year border war that claimed an estimated 70,000 lives, The war ended in December 2000 with a peace plan that called for the establishment of an internationally recognised border between the two countries.
As part of the deal to end the war, Ethiopia and Eritrea agreed to form an independent boundary commission and to consider its decision final and binding. Ethiopia initially objected to the Commission's ruling, handed down in April 2002. However, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said in parliament on 25 November as he announced a five-point plan for peace between the two countries that Ethiopia would accept the ruling "in principle".
Germany was the first nation to welcome the peace proposal, which has also been backed by the European Union and Japan.
Eritrea, on the other hand, rejected the proposal, accusing Ethiopia of stalling over the demarcation of the 1,000-km-long frontier, and warned that the two countries could go to war again if the border dispute is not settled.
"We hardly need to stress the implications of Ethiopia’s continued intransigence and the inexcusable attitude of major international powers," the Eritrean information ministry stated recently. "Eritrea has shown maximum patience. We cannot accept the logic of force and accommodate Ethiopia's forcible occupation of our territory."
However, Meles told journalists at a joint press conference with Kohler in the National Palace that his country was committed to peace.
"The only way forward is through dialogue and to address the root causes of the problems," Meles said. "I do not believe unilateral military steps are conducive to peace in this region. I very much hope that those statements [made by Eritrea] will be limited to [the] rhetorical level because if they go beyond the rhetorical they can seriously endanger the peace of the region," said Meles.
Earlier the German government wrote off €67 million (US $88,520,400) in debts owed by Ethiopia.
Kohler’s four-nation Africa trip started in Sierra Leone. He then visited Benin before travelling to Ethiopia and will end his tour in Djibouti.
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