By Madeline Chambers

London - Legal experts from Ethiopia and Eritrea began talks with international mediators on Friday on demarcating the border between the two Horn of Africa countries, officials said.

Ethiopia and Eritrea agreed to demarcate the border after a 1998-2000 war, in which about 70 000 people were killed, and abide by the ruling of an independent boundary commission in 2002.

Ethiopia has said in the past it wants to discuss the ruling before marking the border out, while Eritrea has insisted on strict implementation before dialogue.

An Ethiopian embassy spokeswoman in London said the talks had begun and would carry on on Saturday, but she gave gave no details on progress.

Tensions have risen since Eritrea introduced a series of restrictions on UN peacekeepers, including a ban on helicopter flights, that have hampered the United Nations' ability to monitor the 1 000km border.

US diplomats are trying to resolve the issue.

Ethiopia's Foreign Affairs Minister of State, Tekeda Alemu, said Addis Ababa had sent the acting head of its legal department to the talks.

"We have sent a delegation to participate in the meeting in good faith," Tekeda said.

Eritrean presidential adviser Yemane Ghebremeskel said: "Our legal team will (take part) under the understanding that there will not be any tinkering with the substance of the (boundary commission's) decision or the process of implementing it."

In February last year, the boundary commission invited the two countries to a similar meeting in London. But while Eritrea accepted the invitation, Ethiopia declined.

The boundary commission then closed its field offices in March, saying Ethiopia had been obstructive since 2002.

Eritrea has repeatedly expressed frustration that the international community has not done enough to make Ethiopia comply with the ruling.

In January, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Eritrea's restrictions on U.N. peacekeepers had made their mission increasingly untenable.

The current UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea mandate is due to expire on March 15.

The mandate is usually renewed for six months at a time but Annan recommended the mandate be renewed for two to three months while the United States tried to find a solution.

(Additional reporting by Tsegaye Tadesse in Addis Ababa, Ed Harris in Asmara)