Eritrea/Ethiopia - Serri: "We have a window of opportunity. Now they must stop the cannon fire"

from Government of Italy
Published on 31 May 2000
Courtesy translation

L'Unità, 31 May 2000

by Toni Fontana

Rome. Undersecretary of State and European Negotiator, Rino Serri begins a kind of diplomatic 'marathon' this morning in Algiers. He will meet with the Ethiopian and Eritrean delegations in an attempt to align their positions and bring an end to the fighting.

He judges the partial withdrawal of Ethiopian troops from some of the occupied areas a positive sign, but adds, "we need to arrive at a de facto end to hostilities to enable negotiations".

Q. Senator Serri, do you share the guarded optimism of the other negotiators, the American Lake and the Algerian Ouyahia?

A. "Without a doubt we are perceiving a new element today. I won't say I'm optimistic but at least a window [of opportunity] has been opened. The Ethiopians have withdrawn from Western Eritrea and some of the territories they had occupied.

In the last few days I had expressed my concerns about Ethiopian bombing in the area of Asmara and Massaua. Now there is the Ethiopians' statement about a troop withdrawal that I hope is being carried out. It is step that contributes positively to the outcome of the negotiations in Algiers which I will be attending".

Q. Fighting, however, continues along the central front.

A. "Still I don't think that there is any significant troop movement that could involve the eastern fronts around Burè and Bada, where there is still an open confrontation. The Ethiopians maintain there are some occupied zones from which the Eritreans have not withdrawn. And while there could be other charges made, we should acknowledge that today, a window has been opened. I hope moreover, hostilities will end even before there is a real cease-fire declaration.

A cease-fire is the objective we are working towards. It would help the negotiations in Algiers enormously although, I don't know how long they will last. Maybe they will be interrupted and then later resumed but in any case, it is important that they occur in a climate of a de facto end to hostilities".

Q. In Algiers, the two ministers never speak to each other directly...

A. "The Algerian Ouyahia is the official negotiator. He refers to us, who in turn, act in support of the negotiators with whom we are discussing".

Q. Some observers maintain that Ethiopia has its sights set on the ports along the Red Sea and that its aim exceeds that of re-conquering those territories occupied two years ago. Do you share these concerns?

A. "I can't judge intentions. I'm keeping to what I know. The Ethiopians have repeatedly and publicly stated that they are not questioning either Eritrea's territorial integrity or its sovereignty. I have to, and want to, believe their words.

The European Union, which was asked to give a significant contribution, supports the peace effort. I have met repeatedly with Solana who has given me his full confidence. I have always kept the Portuguese Presidency informed and we cooperate with the United States."

Q. So you leave for Algiers confident...

A. "At this time, I believe that the pendulum is swinging towards peace, it mustn't swing backwards".