Eritrea and Ethiopia call a truce

Ethiopia and Eritrea signed a landmark peace agreement yesterday to cease hostilities immediately in their devastating two-year-old border war.

The accord came after more than two weeks of talks here. It was orchestrated under the auspices of the Organization of African Unity, which Algeria currently presides over.

The two Horn of Africa nations have lost tens of thousands of citizens in the conflict. Similar numbers of Eritreans have also been displaced and crammed into refugee camps.

The 15-point agreement stipulates that international peacekeepers be deployed in a "security zone" while binational negotiations continue on delineating the hotly contested border.

"The road ahead towards a durable peace is fraught with dangers and complications," said Eritrean Foreign Minister Haile Woldensae. "But we are hopeful...."

Eritrea had been Ethiopia's northernmost province until it won independence in 1993, following a 30-year guerrilla war. Before that, Eritrea had also been colonized by Italy. Of the two Horn nations, only Eritrea has a Red Sea port.

Under the plan, a 15-mile buffer zone will be set up inside Eritrea and along the disputed border. Some diplomats have suggested a force of about 2,000 United Nations troops be sent to monitor the region's nascent peace. Other analysts say only twice that number would be sufficient.

The fighting has had steep economic costs. Military analysts estimate that the impoverished countries - both suffering from the worst drought and famine since the mid-'80s - have spent more than $1 billion on weapons.

"This signing completes the first phase of the process with the cessation of hostilities. There [are] no longer any killings. Now we start work immediately on the remaining issues," US special envoy Anthony Lake said.

"There will be more hard work to get the peace agreement implemented."

- Material from wire services

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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