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UN investigates clashes on border

22 April 2005 - IRIN

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

ADDIS ABABA, - UN peacekeepers are investigating two recent armed clashes on the Ethiopia-Eritrea border that left up to four dead, a UN official said on Thursday.

Gail Bindley Taylor Sainte, spokesperson for the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE), said the incidents on 9 and 11 April were probably caused by cattle rustling.

She added that Ethiopian authorities had categorically denied any involvement, and that UN peacekeepers had no evidence that Ethiopian troops were involved.

Eritrean authorities said they had killed one man in the first clash and captured another, while a third had escaped. In the second incident, they said three men were killed and two escaped.

UN peacekeepers said they had seen the bodies of three men, and interviewed the captured man, having been informed of the fighting after the second clash.

"Further investigations are continuing," Sainte told journalists in Addis Ababa and Asmara, the capitals of Ethiopia and Eritrea respectively, via video link from Asmara.

The two incidents occurred in Om Hajer, a region on the far west of the two countries' border, and close to neighbouring Sudan. "This is a known area for cattle rustling," Sainte said.

"Any incident on the border [that] threatens the security of the temporary security zone is one that is of concern to us," Sainte warned. "The situation right now is such that a little incident could turn into a much bigger incident."

Eritrea and Ethiopia fought a border war between May 1998 and December 2000, in which tens of thousands of people were killed. An independent commission was established to resolve the simmering territorial dispute.

However, Ethiopia rejected the commission's ruling, in April 2002, that certain territory, including the Ethiopian-administered village of Badme where the war first flared up, belonged to Eritrea.

The UN has warned that the ongoing stalemate could spark another conflict, although it recently began scaling down its peacekeeping troop numbers from 4,000 to around 3,300 because of the stand-off.

Sainte said UNMEE was looking at whether the reduction in its peacekeeping force was affecting its monitoring of the 1,000 km border.

Ethiopia has recently increased troops numbers along the frontier, which it says is a purely defensive move. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has urged Ethiopia to pull back.

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