ADDIS ABABA, 31 January (IRIN) - Newly
laid landmines have been discovered in the 25-km security buffer zone separating
Ethiopia and Eritrea, according to the UN. The mines had been discovered
in the western part of the buffer zone, but were believed to be the work
of local armed factions rather than that of the army of either country,
the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) said on Friday. It added
that it did not know who was to blame, but believed "elements"
rather than the regular forces of the two countries were responsible.
Phil Lewis, who heads the UN's Mine Action Coordination Centre (MACC), said the newly laid mines had caused both deaths and serious injury.
Although UNMEE's 4,200 Blue Helmets patrol the temporary security zone, which was set up after the December 2000 peace deal, Eritrean militia police it. Lewis said that in 2002 some 12 landmine incidents had occurred in the western sector alone - an area which includes the contested village of Badme. He added that despite their best efforts, the de-mining teams could not fully guarantee the safety of boundary commission officials implementing the border demarcation.
Lewis told a video-linked press briefing between Asmara and Addis Ababa that while the team had an "exceptionally good" record, accidents could still occur. "De-mining is a risky business, and we cannot guarantee that somebody has not come in and laid a new mine on a road that we cleared the day before," he said.
MACC faces the massive task of ensuring some 2,000 km of road are free from landmines so that demarcation can take place. "It all needs to be checked and that is what this process is all about - ensuring that the routes that are going to be used are not mined," Lewis said.
According to the mission, demarcation of the 1,000-km border between the two countries is scheduled to start in May. The mission pledged that despite several thousand kilometres of road and potential pillar sites to be checked, demarcation would not be delayed. "There will be no delay to the demarcation process due to de-mining efforts," Lewis stressed. "We have the resources, we are ready and we will continue to work, and there will be no delay due to de-mining problems."
MACC will also be de-mining potential pillar sites on the border as well as routes to the pillar sites. It estimates that it will need to de-mine between 70 and 100 pillar sites during the demarcation process.
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