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Eritrea, Ethiopia distrustful despite readiness to sign peace agreement

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June 15, 2000
Web posted at: 11:06 p.m. EDT (0306 GMT)

ASMARA, Eritrea (CNN) -- The war of words between Eritrea and Ethiopia continued on Thursday, fueling worries that their two-year-old conflict may not end with Sunday's signing of a peace agreement.

The proposal to end hostilities, brokered by the Organization of African Unity and agreed to by Ethiopia on Wednesday, calls for a United Nations peacekeeping force to be deployed along a 620-mile long border between the two Horn of Africa neighbors.

Until the border is demarcated, a 15-mile wide buffer will keep the armies away from each other.

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VideoReporter Carol Pineau explains why the peace deal may not stop the war.
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Eritrea, which has been on the losing side of the war, accepted the proposal on June 9 but has reservations about it. Eritrean officials have accused Ethiopia of looking for loopholes in the OAU plan.

Under the agreement, Ethiopian troops will remain on Eritrean soil until peacekeepers arrive. That could take two months or more, and in the meantime there would be no independent verification of the situation in Eritrea.

Should fighting break out, there would be no way of knowing which side fired first, Eritrean officials say.

Punitive damages provided for in the agreement, primarily sanctions, would be difficult to enforce without verification on the ground.

Ethiopia insists that the proposal to end the hostilities is consistent with its objectives.

"The valiant national defense forces of Ethiopia have successfully accomplished their mission by liberating Ethiopia's territories from the Eritrean aggressors and have incapacitated the fighting capability of the Eritrean army," the state-owned Herald newspaper said.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said negotiations were still needed for a comprehensive peace agreement -- including the issue of compensation for civilian victims.

"We have no intention of playing fast and loose with this document, with the OAU process," Meles told diplomats in Addis Ababa. "We only hope that this time around the other side really means what it says."

Eritrean officials say they are concerned that looting and the destruction of property will continue until peacekeepers arrive.

Another concern for Eritreans is the Ethiopian occupation of the country's most fertile land. Normally, farmers would now be planting seeds before the rains expected to begin later this month.

With a good crop, the grain harvest would be enough to feed a large part of Eritrea's population.

However, those farm workers are now in displacement camps and, instead of feeding a nation, they need to be fed.

Reporter Carol Pineau and Reuters contributed to this report.



RELATED STORIES:
Ethiopia says it will end war with Eritrea
June 14, 2000
Eritrea accepts plan for cease-fire in war with Ethiopia
June 9, 2000
Eritrea says Ethiopians placed in camps for protection
June 7, 2000
Eritrea claims recapture of key town from Ethiopia
June 6, 2000
War between Ethiopia and Eritrea resumes on all fronts
June 5, 2000
Eritrean president wants Ethiopia out of undisputed land
June 4, 2000

RELATED SITES:
Organization of African Unity (OAU)
Government of Eritrea
Eritrean Network Information Center
Welcome To Ethiopia Online
United Front of Ethiopians - Ethiopian National Congress
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

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