ERITREA: FOREIGN MINISTER TALKS ABOUT ETHIOPIA

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(14 Jun 2000) English/Nat

Eritrea’s Foreign Minister said on Tuesday that the draft peace agreement between his government and Ethiopia will eventually be implemented.

But renewed fighting on Tuesday highlighted the fragile nature of the agreement.

Ethiopia said it had retaken towns on the volatile western front between the two countries.

The Eritrean Foreign Minister Haile Woldenpensae, said on Tuesday that he was hopeful that Ethiopia would agree in principal to a peace plan to end fighting in the Horn of Africa war.

But he fears that they may stall implementation of the plan.

Speaking in the Eritrean capital Asmara on Tuesday, Woldenpensae said that the framework for peace was in place.

The Organization of African Unity has given Ethiopia until this weekend to accept or reject the peace plan, which
Eritrea accepted May 9.

The proposal calls for a ceasefire, outside demarcation of the disputed border and U-N peacekeepers to monitor it.

His government, he said, had accepted the plan put forward during talks in Algiers.

SOUNDBITE: (English)
“We challenged the Ethiopians by accepting that they can stay their troops where they are until the peace keeping mission is deployed and we accepted the mediators’ request for a separation zone of twenty five kilometres. So that was what the OAU tabled as a proposal for a cessation of hostilities agreement. And it was on Friday that the OAU gave a time frame of twenty four hours so by Saturday the Ethiopians were supposed to respond, either positively or negatively. We on Friday automatically accepted the proposal.”
SUPER CAPTION: Haile Woldenpensae, Eritrean Foreign Minister

He said that the Ethiopians had asked for a week-long period of consultation for the plan rather than the twenty-four hours first set out.

But despite the delay he seemed hopeful that Ethiopia would finally accept the plan.

SOUNDBITE: (English)
“Most probably it will be very difficult for the Ethiopians to reject this proposal but as you have said they could create all kinds of excuses to not commit themselves but at the same time stall the negotiations.”
SUPER CAPTION: Haile Woldenpensae, Eritrean Foreign Minister

He said he would only be certain of Ethiopian agreement to the plan when the official documents had been signed.

Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin said on Wednesday he expected a ‘positive’ response to the O-A-U plan within the next few days.

Despite these hopeful signs Ethiopia said on Wednesday its army had retaken a key western Eritrean town.

Ethiopian forces stormed Eritrean positions near Teseney late Tuesday and seized the town hours later after
inflicting ‘heavy human and material losses,’ spokeswoman Selome Tadesse said.

The Ethiopian offensive was spurred by Eritrean ‘provocations’, Selome said.

Ethiopia’s claims could not be independently verified and Eritrean officials were not immediately available for comment.

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