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ETHIOPIA-ERITREA: Moves afoot for possible peacekeeping mission

OAU and UN conflict specialists met in New York last week to undertake "preliminary contingency planning" for a possible
peacekeeping mission to Ethiopia and Eritrea. The mission is expected to be part of a resolution to the nearly year-long conflict between the two countries.

Sources in the UN Secretariat and the OAU told IRIN on Tuesday that the talks included discussions on the deployment of military observers, demarcation of the border and funding arrangements. According to an OAU spokesperson, the moves were "farsighted" and designed to lay the groundwork "well in advance of a ceasefire".

There is currently no ceasefire in place, despite both a lull in the fighting, and the two sides' agreement in principle to the OAU's 11-point terms.

The OAU has in the recent past fielded military observers to Rwanda, Burudni and the Comoros Islands. Both UN and OAU sources declined to divulge the size or cost of the planned Ethiopia-Eritrea operation, but the 40-strong OAU Observer Mission in Burundi (OMIB), which closed last year, cost about US $450,000 a month, an OAU spokesman said.

The UN Secretary-General's special envoy, Mohamed Sahnoun, visited Eritrea on Monday after meeting the current chairman of the OAU, President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso in Paris. He will shuttle between Eritrea and Ethiopia this week in his second mission to the warring Horn of Africa countries in support of the OAU plan. The current "stumbling block"
between Ethiopia and Eritrea, diplomats say, is the redeployment of troops from contested areas.

Ethiopian Speaker of Parliament Dawit Yohannes confirmed to IRIN that the two countries disagreed on redeployment of troops. Ethiopia expects Eritrea to pull out of at least three locations on the common border, he said, but a recent statement by the Eritrean foreign minister to the UN Security Council said only that Asmara was willing to pull out from Badme and its immediate environs.

The OAU framework, drafted last November, states that "the armed forces presently in Badme Town and its environs should be redeployed to the positions they held before 6 May 1998". Ethiopian forces drove Eritrean troops from the Badme area in a February offensive.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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