By Jack Kimball
ASMARA, May 24 (Reuters) - Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki said on Thursday a security buffer between the Red Sea state and arch-foe Ethiopia was "meaningless" and blamed the United States for a five-year border stalemate.
In a speech commemorating Eritrea's independence in 1991, Isaias said ultimate responsibility for the impasse and any "negative consequences that may unfold in the period ahead" rests with Washington.
"Eritrea's decision to show restraint and refrain from taking appropriate measures ... must be appreciated indeed," Isaias told thousands of Eritreans gathered in Asmara Stadium.
"U.S. administration officials have rendered meaningless the zone and its temporary essence," he said, referring to a buffer region set up by a 2000 peace deal ending a two-year border war with Ethiopia that killed 70,000 people.
Eritrea has increasingly blamed the United States for the border deadlock as tensions heightened between Asmara and Addis Ababa, the main U.S. counter-terrorism ally in the Horn of Africa, over fighting in Somalia and recent attacks in Ethiopia.
Analysts say Somalia -- where the Ethiopian-backed interim government early this year ousted Islamist militias seen by many to be aided by Eritrea -- has brought relations between the neighbours to an all-time low.
Amid cheering crowds, the former rebel leader defended as lawful Eritrea's mobilisation of thousands of troops into the buffer zone, all of which is inside Eritrea and monitored by U.N. peacekeepers.
"No party should expect the Government of Eritrea to watch idly, paralysed by wilfully created uncertainty, while a quarter of its sovereign territory is doomed to dereliction, deprived from development work," he said.
Hundreds of thousands died from conflict, famine and disease during Eritrea's liberation war against Ethiopia, which has taken on mythic proportions in the Red Sea state.
Sitting on a red, three-wheel motorcycle, Abdu Hassan said he gladly gave up his arm and both legs to Eritrea's 30-year independence war, known as "The Struggle".
"Even though I left half my body on the battlefield, I'm grateful that I lived to see this day," the 45-year-old veteran said, seated in a line with other disabled fighters.
Although independence ended one of Africa's longest wars, a return to conflict in 1998 with Ethiopia and no movement resolving the nations' shared frontier has meant Eritrea remains one of the most highly militarised societies in the world.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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