Friday, December 12, 2003

Ethiopia/Eritrea: three years later ... still no progress

Three years ago today, Ethiopia and Eritrea signed a peace accord in Algiers, ending a border war that killed tens of thousands. And three years on, the main point of contention has not been settled.

As part of the Algiers agreement, both sides agreed to accept as "final and binding" a ruling by an independent boundary commission.

The commission delivered its ruling in April 2002 (full-text). Ethopia rejected the ruling in September 2003 because, among other things, the commission awarded Irob and the town of Badme (the flashpoint of the war) to Eritrea.

Eritrea has accused Ethiopia of holding the process "hostage" and refused to engage in any more talks, asking instead that the international community bring pressure to bear on Ethiopia. Last month, Eritrea recalled its ambassador to the African Union saying that the AU has failed to pressure or take disciplinary action against Ethiopia for not living up to the Algiers Agreement.

As for Ethiopia, its position is that the Boundary Commission's decision violates "the central undertaking" of the Algiers peace agreement because the Commission did not "... consider the implications of its demarcation for the stability of the boundary or the humanitarian impact ..." (article here)

A bit more about Ethiopia's position can be found in the following ... a letter Prime Minister Meles Zenawi sent to the UN Security Council in September.
The Colonial treaties which are the basis of the Algiers Agreement and which should have been the key basis for the delimitation and demarcation of the boundary leave Badme inside Ethiopia. This is also the Commission's own interpretation of the relevant Treaty. Nonetheless, the Commission chose to base its decision on state practice, and having done so, it went on and awarded Badme to Eritrea despite the overwhelming evidence produced by Ethiopia proving that Badme had always been administered by Ethiopia. The Commission's decision which was allegedly based on state practice also ended up splitting a single village and even a single homestead between the two countries. Its decisions in some parts of the central sector are equally illegal.(full-text)
The Security Council refused Zenawi's request to get involved in the dispute and told Ethiopia to abide by the Boundary Commission's decision.

The process to demarcate the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea has been postponed a number of times, the last time in October. Next week, the Boundary Commission is expected to essentially pack up and leave its headquarters in Eritrea ... leaving only a skeleton staff behind.

The UN has confirmed it's going to appoint a special envoy to try and get past this deadlock. Rumour has it that Lloyd Axworthy, a former Canadian foreign minister, is up for the job ... and for his part, Axworthy has said he's willing to take on the role.

The UN has a 4,200 strong peacekeeping force monitoring the border between the two countries. (See UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea)

Go here for a past post on the dispute.