An exiled opposition leader accused Eritrea's president last week of mobilising for a fresh conflict in the hope of galvanising domestic support in a country where memories of losses in the neighbours' 1998-2000 border war are still raw.

Usman Abu Bakr, leader of the outlawed Eritrean National Alliance, said in London last week that Eritrean President Isayas Afewerki was readying for a new war because he had lost support at home.

But Major-General Rajender Singh, the military commander of a 4000-strong UN peacekeeping force, told a news conference on Thursday in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa: "I did not see any indication that Eritrea was preparing for another round of war with Ethiopia."

Fears a fresh conflict might erupt between the Horn of Africa countries have risen in the past year, following Ethiopia's rejection of a new boundary drawn up by an independent commission under a peace deal signed in 2000.

Calls for dialogue

"I did not see any indication that Eritrea was preparing for another round of war with Ethiopia"

Major-General Rajender Singh,
UN peacekeeping force chief

Ethiopia has called for dialogue to resolve the dispute, while Eritrea says other countries should pressure Ethiopia into accepting the ruling, which it had agreed to accept as "final and binding" under the terms of the peace deal.

The head of the UN peacekeeping mission, Legwaila Joseph Legwaila, said he believed the two neighbours' reassurances that they would not resume fighting.

"The two countries went to war in 1998-2000. There is a lot of bitterness in a war which resulted in shedding lots of blood," he told the news conference.

"But the two countries have said that they would not resort to war hereafter. I am going to trust them. People should not have sleepless nights on this," he said.