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Sudan Tribune

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Ethiopia defends militia incursions into buffer zone with Eritrea

ADDIS ABABA, May 13 (AFP) — Ethiopia has defended the incursion of armed militiamen into a UN-patrolled buffer corridor in Eritrea, saying they had gone to recover cattle allegedly stolen by troops from its former warring neighbour.

“This latest event was caused by rustling in which 500 head of cattle were stolen by Eritrean troops who crossed into Ethiopia, south of the Temporary Security Zone (TSZ),” the Ethiopian foreign ministry said in a statement released late Wednesday.

The statement explained that “four armed militiamen from the Ethiopian side crossed into the TSZ in pursuit of the stolen cattle, an act which Ethiopia has never condoned but which nonetheless was a reaction to provocation by Eritrea.”

On Tuesday, the US State Department said it was “disturbed” by reports that Ethiopian militia groups had entered the TSZ calling such movements “provocative.”

Relations between Addis Ababa and Asmara have never recovered from a fierce 1998-2000 war and a peace process is now deadlocked over the precise path of the border that sparked the conflict.

“We ask the government of Ethiopia to prevent further incursions into the TSZ in accordance with the agreement on cessation of hostilities,” spokesman Richard Boucher said.

The foreign ministry statement insisted that “Ethiopia has not engaged in any activity that can even remotely be considered provocative.”

“Ethiopia does understand the concerns of the international community and friendly countries over the possibility of an escalation of tension between Ethiopia and Eritrea.”

“In all these, Eritrea has been and continues to be the culprit,” the statement said.

An international commission ruled on the precise path of the Ethiopia-Eritrea border in 2002, but Addis Ababa has consistently rejected the decision as “unjust”

Eritrea has refused to discuss the matter, insisting that both countries agreed in the peace accord signed in 2000 to accept the ruling as “final and binding.”

Last week, the UN Security Council raised doubts about the “long-term viability” of the UN Mission to Eritrea and Ethiopia, given the ongoing squabbling, and pressed both sides to push the stalled peace process forward.