UN hints at sanctions if Eritrea and Ethiopia do not end fighting

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The Independent Online

Hoping to contain Africa's newest war, the United Nations Security Council demanded that Eritrea and Ethiopia immediately stop fighting and hinted at a possible arms embargo if the conflict doesn't die down over the weekend.

In a resolution unanimously adopted Friday just hours after fighting along the Eritrean-Ethiopian border flared, the council demanded the Horn of Africa neighbors restart stalled peace talks that broke down last week.

The resolution said the council would meet again on Monday "to take immediate steps to ensure compliance with this resolution" if fighting continues.

British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock, who drafted the resolution, said that was a clear threat of an arms embargo. He attributed the vague wording in the resolution more to bureaucratic problems than any lack of substance or resolve on the part of the council to actually impose the measures.

"I think that if the international community can show its displeasure with these developments by saying that it should not be so easy for these two countries to get arms, then we might have taken a step forward," he said.

France, Russia and China had blocked British attempts to make the threat of an arms embargo more specific in Friday's resolution, diplomats said, but Greenstock said he hoped the council would be able to make a unanimous decision on Monday.

"This war everybody believes is unnecessary and senseless," Greenstock said.

Two days after a U.N. Security Council delegation abandoned attempts to get the two countries to resume indirect talks, the feuding neighbors reported heavy fighting Friday at three contested points along their border.

The delegation tried unsuccessfully to get both sides to accept another round of indirect talks within an Organization of African Unity framework to which both have already agreed.

But both countries held fast to their previous positions.

Ethiopia refuses to agree to a cease-fire until all other aspects of the agreement are in place; Eritrea won't move on the details until a cease-fire has been declared.

The two-year conflict over the 620-mile border between Ethiopia and Eritrea - among the world's poorest countries - has cost the lives of thousands of soldiers and civilians on both sides.

U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who was part of the council delegation, accused Ethiopia and Eritrea of "stupidity" for whipping up relatively minor disputes out of national pride and of "cruel disregard for the interests of the people."

Speaking to reporters in Munich, Germany, Holbrooke said millions of people were threatened with famine in southern Ethiopia because the government is spending its meager resources on the war.

On Friday, Secretary-General Kofi Annan predicted "a very brutal war" and implored both sides to stop fighting and think of their people, who are already suffering gravely from the effects of a drought.

"The secretary-general stresses that the differences between the two countries cannot justify in any way the great loss in human lives they already have suffered and stand to suffer further. He is further concerned that the renewed fighting will worsen the already grave humanitarian situation prevailing in both countries and in the Horn of Africa region more widely," said the statement read by spokesman Fred Eckhard.

The U.N. World Food Program estimates that there are 16 million people at risk of starvation in the Horn of Africa.