Nairobi, Kenya (CNSNews.com) - Horn of Africa neighbors Ethiopia and Eritrea have signed a peace agreement to end a two-year border war that has cost thousands of lives and millions of dollars spent on military hardware.
A peace accord drafted by the Organization of African Unity together with officials from the US and European Union was signed by officials from the two nations in Algeria Sunday, and witnessed by US special envoy Anthony Lake and an EU representative.
The agreement calls for an immediate cease-fire and the deployment of a UN peacekeeping force in a 25-km buffer zone inside Eritrea until the disputed 1,000 kilometer-long border is demarcated.
Ethiopia also agreed to withdraw its troops from areas captured since the war began in the two weeks after the peacekeepers' deployment.
Lake said the US was pleased with the development and urged both sides to strictly follow the terms of the Algiers accord.
He stressed that the security zone was temporary and that the two sides would have to start work swiftly to implement the deal with the help of international mediators.
"This signing completes the first phase of the process with the cessation of hostilities," Lake was quoted as saying. "There is no longer any killing. Now, we start work immediately on the remaining issues, including the most important one - the demarcation of the border."
Welcoming the agreement, President Clinton said in Washington that it "can and should permit these two countries to realize their potential in peace instead of squandering it in war."
The Eritrean and Ethiopian foreign ministers shook hands after the signing and pledged to respect the treaty's terms.
During weeks of indirect negotiations in Algiers, the two ministers had not talked to each other, forcing international mediators to shuttle between them as they tried to narrow the differences.
"We will remain faithful and loyal to the full implementation of this agreement on the cessation of hostilities signed between us and Eritrea," Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin said in a prepared statement.
"We are now certain, after two years of senseless fighting, that there can be no military solution to this conflict," declared his Eritrean counterpart, Haile Woldensaeign.
Despite the optimistic words, however, diplomats and analysts in Nairobi were skeptical Monday, saying hostilities between two nations, among the poorest in the world, could easily erupt because each wanted to prove its military prowess.
"Give them the benefit of doubt for now, but it will be wise for the international community, especially the OAU and the UN, to quickly deploy peace forces because of the unpredictable nature of the two neighbors," advised Dr Arthur Okwemba, a political analyst at the University of Nairobi.
"Do not be shocked if the war resumes," added a western diplomat in Nairobi, who
did not want to be identified.
Serious drought threatens the lives of an estimated 15 million people across the Horn of Africa, 10 million of them in Ethiopia.
Eritrea was Ethiopia's northernmost province but won independence in 1993 after a 30-year guerrilla war.
The two nations started off as close allies, but economic disputes emerged and territorial claims exploded into a war that has created a humanitarian crisis in the region.
After the war began in May 1998, Eritrea seized pockets of disputed land along the border, but the gains were wiped out last month as Ethiopian troops pushed deep into Eritrean territory.