Ethiopia says its army "metres apart" from Eritreans
By Tsegaye Tadesse
ADDIS ABABA, Sept 10 (Reuters) - Ethiopia said on Monday its army was just metres apart from Eritrean soldiers who had moved into a buffer zone on the Horn of Africa foes' disputed border.
"Eritrea has moved thousands of troops and heavy weapons inside the Temporary Security Zone, despite numerous U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding their withdrawal," Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin told reporters.
"At this time there is little separation of troops from the two neighbours. ... The armies of the two countries are only 70 or 80 meters apart," he added at a news conference.
Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a 1998-2000 war over their frontier, resulting in a boundary ruling by an independent commission that has been a source of friction ever since.
Seyoum said Eritrea's actions on the border -- which Ethiopia has been denouncing for about a year -- ruined recent talks between the two nations and a Hague-based international commission that ruled on the boundary in 2002.
"The talks in the Hague stalled because Eritrea occupied the 25-km Temporary Security Zone, in violation of the secession of hostilities agreement, which would have allowed demarcation of the border," he told a news conference.
"Eritrea's actions are in open defiance of a number of Security Council resolutions and constitute a fundamental breach of the Algiers agreement," he added, referring to a peace agreement after the war that killed some 70,000 people.
At the weekend, Eritrea accused Ethiopia of scuppering the Hague talks by refusing to move forward even if Eritrea followed the boundary commission's recommendations on its side.
Asmara denies sending its army close to Ethiopia's, saying Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's government is inventing allegations to distract attention from domestic problems.
As part of their 2000 peace deal, both Ethiopia and Eritrea agreed to accept as final and binding the boundary commission's ruling. But the process halted after Addis Ababa rejected the decision which awarded the flashpoint town of Badme to Eritrea.
Seyoum accused Eritrea of harbouring terrorist groups, including militant Islamist leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, who has shown up in Asmara at a Somali opposition meeting.
Seyoum denied human rights allegations of atrocities by Ethiopian troops against rebels in eastern Ogaden region.
"To our knowledge, there was not one village destroyed or burnt in the recent action against the Ogaden National Liberation Movement (ONLF)," he said.
"What was going on in Somali region was clearing the terrorist ONLF -- and that has been been achieved."
Ethiopia launched a major military campaign against the ONLF after it attacked a Chinese-run oil exploration field in April, killing 74 people.
The ONLF says the government is terrorising the population, while the Medecins Sans Frontieres charity said recently it had seen burned out and deserted villages in the area.
"I hope the U.N. mission which visited the region will clear the situation," Seyoum added of a U.N. team which has spent a week in the remote and arid region of mainly nomadic herders.