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Horn of Africa: No War, No Peace
Jan 27, 2004 (040127)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
Implementation of the peace process that was to resolve the border
conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea remains stalled. The failure
to move forward, as governments in both countries use the conflict
for political advantage, is increasing the risk of return to war.
Such a development would not only be a disaster for the two
countries, but also a major setback to the peacemaking momentum in
the region and other conflict zones on the continent.
This issue of AfricaFocus Bulletin contains (1) a commentary from
Foreign Policy in Focus by Dan Connell calling for the U.S. to take
stronger action in favor of peace between the two U.S. allies, and
(2) a year-end summary of developments in 2003 in the conflict,
from the UN's Integrated Regional Information Networks. Updates
from last fall, including the executive summary of a report by the
International Crisis Group, can be found at
Connell is a long-time supporter of the movement for Eritrean
independence. He has recently published a strong critique of
repressive measures by the current Eritrean government, available
on allafrica.com at:
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++
Foreign Policy in Focus Commentary
Eritrea/Ethiopia War Looms as Washington Watches & Waits
By Dan Connell January 21, 2004
Editor: Emira Woods, Institute for Policy Studies (IPS)
[FPIF policy analyst Dan Connell is the author of numerous books
and articles on the Horn of Africa. His latest is Taking on the
Superpowers: Collected Articles on the Eritrean Revolution
(1976-1982), Vol. 1 (Red Sea Press, 2003). Volume 2 is due out in
February. Connell teaches journalism and African politics at
Simmons College, Boston.]
The latest State Department call for progress in the stalled
Ethiopia-Eritrea peace accord--issued this week and coming on the
heels of similar expressions of concern by European diplomats last
week--is welcome news for those fearing the renewal of war. But it
doesn't go nearly far enough.
The absence of even the barest suggestion of consequences to either
party for blocking the accord renders the statement toothless.
European calls for "dialogue" only muddy the waters further.
Without international pressure to implement the accord in full, and
soon, the downward spiral will continue, driven not only by the
unresolved border issues but by internal political considerations.
Four years ago, Eritrea and Ethiopia agreed to put the border
dispute that triggered what became one of the most costly conflicts
in African history to binding arbitration. Today, with Ethiopia
balking at the results, the two states are on the verge of going
back to war, as the U.S. twiddles its political thumbs in the hope
that the problem will somehow go away.
Meanwhile, Ethiopia 's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi uses the crisis
and its emotive appeal to Ethiopian nationalists to shore up his
narrowly based regime, even as the country confronts widespread
famine due both to a persistent drought and to the redirection of
scarce resources to the war effort.
For his part, Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki uses the continued
war-footing to bludgeon his critics, suppress dissent, and postpone
indefinitely the democratization of the small but strategic East
African state, Africa's newest.
The Bush administration, which seeks both countries' support for
the "war on terrorism" and for the pacification of Iraq, appears
loathe to step into this quarrel, which grows more and more bitter
as it festers, even as it poisons the politics of both states. Yet
to remain on the sidelines and allow this tinderbox to explode once
again will spell disaster--for the two war-weary peoples, for
regional stability, and for much more.
The Eritreans fought 30 years for the independence of the former
Italian colony, which Ethiopia forcibly annexed in the early 1960s.
To win their hard-fought victory, Eritrean nationalists joined
forces with antigovernment guerrillas in Ethiopia to oust the
dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam, but the erstwhile allies
fell out with one another in the decade that followed as each set
out to reconstruct their battered states.
The last war, fought in three rounds over a two-year period that
started in May 1998, cost tens of thousands of lives and hundreds
of millions of dollars. It also wrecked plans for regional
cooperation and development, exacerbated the civil war in
neighboring Sudan, and even managed to heighten tensions in
Somalia, where rival political forces find support from one or the
other feuding state.
Discrete diplomatic efforts failed to defuse the Eritrea-Ethiopia
crisis as it was building up in 1997-98. After a series of armed
incidents during which several Eritrean officials were murdered
near the disputed village of Badme, the Eritrean army rolled into
the area with a large mechanized force and took the village.
Shortly afterward, Ethiopia, claiming it had been invaded, declared
"total war" on Eritrea and mobilized its armed forces for a
Three rounds of combat, fought with World War 1 tactics and cold
war-era weapons, produced mind-boggling casualties and nearly
bankrupted both countries. The fighting was accompanied by a mass
Ethiopian expulsion of Eritreans and Ethiopians of Eritrean origin,
creating a severe social crisis on top of that caused by the war
During the last round in May-June 2000, the Ethiopians occupied
nearly one-fourth of Eritrea, displacing some 600,000 civilians and
inflicting enormous damage to the new state's fragile
infrastructure. After the Eritreans retreated to defensible
positions and halted the advance, Ethiopia agreed to a ceasefire.
On December 12, 2000, Eritrea and Ethiopia signed a Comprehensive
Peace Agreement in Algiers, assisted by mediators from the U.S.,
the European Union, and the Organization of African Unity. Under
its terms, a 25-kilometer-wide Temporary Security Zone was
established within Eritrea to be patrolled by UN peacekeeping
forces, while an international Boundary Commission, whose members
were approved in advance by both sides, delimited the contested
border. The UN force has been there ever since.
The Boundary Commission issued its findings in April 2002, giving
a little to each side but confirming that Badme was in Eritrea.
Both parties initially accepted the outcome, though Ethiopia voiced
objections over Badme, which had become the symbolic rationale for
the war itself. As a result of this and other reasons (de-mining
delays, among them), the actual demarcation never took place.
A renewal of fighting along the Ethiopia-Eritrea front now would be
waged with more passion--and with new and better arms--than ever
before, damaging both states in devastating ways and almost
certainly pushing them into famine. It would also exacerbate
tensions in a far wider sphere and create new openings for global
terrorists to expand their operations.
In addition to this, a U.S. failure on the diplomatic front will
undermine confidence in all such internationally arbitrated
settlements. The most serious consequence could be the collapse of
peace talks in Sudan, in which the U.S. is heavily invested--and
where access to some of the world's largest untapped oil reserves
await the end of the fighting.
Such an outcome would prove a political catastrophe for the Bush
administration as it seeks to convince a skeptical American public
going into election season that this country and the world are
safer today than they were before the "war on terror" got underway.
The fact that both Eritrea and Ethiopia are charter members of
Bush's much-touted "coalition of the willing" in Iraq could then
prove more than a little embarrassing.
Stepped up Western efforts to promote peace reflect these fears but
fall far short of what is needed to produce results. Britain 's
Minister for Africa Chris Mullin met Zenawi in Addis Ababa last
week after talks in Eritrea and Djibouti. He was quickly followed
by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder who embarked on an Africa
tour aimed in part at promoting conflict resolution, and then by
U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Donald
Yamamoto. However, none of this diplomacy appeared to make a
Though the State Department press release issued in Washington this
week called on both parties to implement the boundary commission's
finding "fully and without delay," it did not specify a cost for
not doing so or a benefit for acting. Nor did it even generate a
substantive response from the warring parties.
For their part, both European leaders urged more discussion between
Ethiopia and Eritrea to move the process forward. In doing so, they
appeared to take Ethiopia 's side, for it is only Addis Ababa that
wants to reopen the talks and alter the pact. The danger is that
such a "dialogue" could undo the entire agreement and place the
combatants back on square one of the peace process, which is itself
becoming an issue.
More than 60 countries have provided troops for this mission since
February 2001, but many--particularly those underwriting the
mission--are growing weary. "The international community cannot go
on paying $180 million for the UN peacekeepers on the border
indefinitely," Mullin told a news conference in Ethiopia last week.
Time is short for averting a new outbreak of fighting. The Bush
administration needs to take decisive steps now--and to pull the
Europeans into the effort--or risk seeing the entire region slide
into chaos. Meanwhile, continuing a situation of no-war-no-peace
has terrible costs--not only in terms of growing instability, but
in the setbacks to a promising democratization process that has
since become a hostage to the crisis.
Eritrea's President Isaias Afwerki--a guerrilla commander in the
liberation war--has blocked the implementation of a Constitution
ratified in 1997, arrested dozens of his critics (including top
government and liberation movement leaders), shut down the
independent press, banned competing political parties, and
repeatedly postponed national elections--all in the name of
While this is an old ruse to suppress dissent, it has for the most
part worked. Many Eritreans, deeply disturbed over the turn of
events in their new country, hesitate to speak out for fear they
will give comfort to their foe--or be branded as such.
Meanwhile, both countries are threatened with famine due both to
recurrent drought and to the destructive effects of sustaining a
war footing of this scope and magnitude. Both countries need
large-scale food aid-- Eritrea alone is asking $146 m for this
year--but donors are understandably worried about the potential
misuse of such aid. At best, emergency aid would take up the slack
in these ailing economies and allow more resources to be directed
into the war effort.
The Bush administration is in a position to break this logjam and
move the process forward. Public statements bemoaning the lack of
progress are not useful, however well meant. What is needed is
Consequences for sustaining this impasse need to be spelled
out--condemnations in international forums, aid withheld, sanctions
imposed. And rewards for settling the conflict need to be made
clear--reconstruction assistance, demobilization support, trade
advantages, new training programs.
Meanwhile, the U.S. should not paper over this problem by remaining
in a military and political alliance with both these states. At the
least, they should be dropped from the Iraq coalition until they
get their own houses in order.
To do otherwise is to make a mockery of claims that U.S. policy in
this important region has anything to do with democracy--or peace.
Published by Foreign Policy In Focus (FPIF), a joint project of the
Interhemispheric Resource Center (IRC, online at
http://www.irc-online.org) and the Institute for Policy Studies
(IPS, online at http://www.ips-dc.org).
Eritrea-Ethiopia: Review of Peace Process in 2003
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
January 8, 2004
The year 2003 should have marked a time when the foundations for
lasting peace were laid between Ethiopia and Eritrea, two
impoverished countries in the Horn of Africa.
The peace deal signed in Algiers in December 2000 would finally
come to fruition and the desperately-needed nation building after
decades of strife would begin in earnest.
But the words of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, in his latest
report on the peace process issued on Friday, will cause concern
among those who had hoped for a breakthrough in the Horn.
The peace process "remains difficult, even precarious" and there
are fears that the current situation could escalate. Inflammatory
rhetoric is increasing and tensions are high," he said.
DISAPPOINTMENT AND DEADLOCK
What has gone wrong? The Ethiopia and Eritrea peace process was
seen as a model operation between two responsible, sovereign
governments, willing to cooperate.
Both had signed up to and agreed to abide by a peace deal. Both
continue to declare peace is the only option for two nations
struggling to develop their fragile economies.
What was supposed to be the year when the first signs of normal
relations appeared and a new border was marked out, will now be
remembered as one of disappointment and deadlock.
It was a border dispute in Badme, a small Ethiopian-administered
town with a population of around 5,000 people, in May 1998 that
flared up into a full-blown and bloody war.
In the ensuing two years of heavy fighting, thousands were killed
on both sides, both military and civilian, and as many as a million
people were displaced from their homes.
In June 2000, the sides signed a cessation of hostilities agreement
that led to a comprehensive peace accord signed in Algiers in
December of that year.
Article Four of the accord paved the way for an independent
boundary commission to finally resolve the long-running frontier
dispute by drawing up and marking out a new internationally
Eritrea, whose border was never formally demarcated after it
officially gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993 following a
30-year guerrilla war, would finally have an official border.
Ethiopia could turn its attentions to poverty eradication, avoiding
the pitfalls of previous governments whose scarce resources were
sapped fighting to prevent the Eritreans breaking away.
The independent Boundary Commission based in The Hague issued its
"final and binding" decision in April 2002 stating where the border
would lie. Both countries initially hailed the ruling. All was set
But as 2003 began to unravel so to did the commission's ruling -
the central plank of the peace process - and the planned
demarcation of the border began to look shaky.
Although both sides gained and lost territory in the ruling, the
wrangling over who had been awarded Badme continued, with each
country claiming it had gone to them.
The populations of both nations were largely left in the dark as
Badme's exact location had been left from the commission's original
By February 2003 the international community and the United Nations
began sensing that cracks were appearing and that border
implementation would meet stiff resistance.
The European Union and the United States both applied diplomatic
pressure to keep up the momentum. Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles
Zenawi and Eritrean President Isayas Afewerki were courted by world
leaders and encouraged to meet their commitments.
But it was in late March that the first definitive announcement of
the location of Badme, and a second area on the Ethio-Eritrea
border called Irob, became clear.
Badme, according to the Commission was to be found in Eritrea based
on colonial maps of the region and parts of Irob too were also in
Gradually, the hoped-for smooth transition to lasting peace began
to ebb away and the downward spiral towards deadlock that now marks
the peace process set in.
By the end of March, Ethiopia's Tigray region, which borders
Eritrea and witnessed much of the fighting and loss of life,
announced that the decision was unacceptable.
The leadership in Addis Ababa remained silent while demarcation
deadlines of May and July passed. October then became the
definitive date for demarcation.
But by September the first public government criticism of the
commission began. Meles dismissed the ruling as a "blatant
miscarriage of justice".
"Indeed, the commission seems to be determined to continue its
disastrous stance whatever the consequences to peace in the
region," he said in a letter to the UN.
By the end of October the commission, facing increasing criticism
in Ethiopia, announced it was unable to demarcate the border under
The hiccups and hurdles that beset any peace process had become a
While Eritrea insists the border should be demarcated, as
stipulated in the "final and binding" ruling, Ethiopia has warned
that further conflict could ensue.
Ethiopia wants a broad-based dialogue to resolve the impasse, while
its neighbour has rejected talks until demarcation is complete.
"There is no doubt that a fundamental requirement for the
successful completion of the peace process and future normalisation
of relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea lies in the expeditious
demarcation of their common border," Annan said in his progress
In the meantime, the UN peacekeeping force (the UN Mission in
Ethiopia and Eritrea UNMEE) ensures that militarily the situation
remains stable. The 3,800 Blue Helmets that patrol a demilitarised
area, called the Temporary Security Zone, have maintained a fragile
peace and prevented flare-ups. They will only exit the country once
the last pillar on the border has been planted.
The closing months of 2003 have been marked by intense diplomatic
efforts to try and break the deadlock.
US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Donald
Yamamoto visited the region to help ensure peace and defuse
tensions, meeting with both Meles and Isayas.
Both countries are important allies of Washington in the Horn of
Africa and openly supported the US-led war against Iraq earlier
In 2004, diplomatic attempts to break the deadlock will intensify
"In the period ahead, it will be essential for the parties to keep
an open mind and continue to work with the international community
and key supporters of the peace process," said Annan.
Later this month the German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder will
arrive in Addis Ababa and a UN special envoy, former Canadian
foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy, is expected in the region to try
and help resolve the impasse.
But unlike the beginning of the year, a date for the eventual
border demarcation has yet to be fixed and no obvious breakthrough
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