Line in the Sand: The Ethio-Eritrean Border

Article excerpt

Given the conflict in Iraq and the unfolding of genocide in Sudan, perhaps it should not be surprising that renewed hostilities between Ethiopia and Eritrea have failed to attract any meaningful international attention. Yet this conflict, which has flared up once again after four years of relative peace, threatens to further destabilize an already tumultuous region and give rise to a humanitarian disaster.

The current conflict stems from the breakdown of the December 2000 Algiers Peace Accord that agreed to end the fighting and accepted borders drawn by a new international commission as "final and binding." This was a step that seemed to signal a genuine commitment towards sustained peace on the part of both sides. Yet in 2002, when the Boundary Commission announced its recommendations at the Hague, a new war of words began. Although the Boundary Commission demarcated a new border, it was initially unclear where the symbolic, and hotly contested, town of Badme fell in relation to the new boundaries. Both sides claim Badme, but it seems that the majority of the Badme region, including Badme village, falls under the territory awarded to Eritrea by the Boundary Commission in 2002.

Despite their previous pledge to obey the commission, neither Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia's Prime Minister, nor Isaias Afwerki, Eritrea's President, has encouraged peace after the Boundary Commission's ruling. Afwerki has ruled out any further dialogue with Ethiopia, saying that Ethiopia's refusal to abide by the 2000 Algiers agreement is tantamount to a declaration of war. Meanwhile, Zenawi has publicly expressed his displeasure with the Badme ruling, offering a renegotiated peace as the only solution. Also, it seems that Zenawi's small ruling coalition clings to power only by appeasing Ethiopian nationalists with talk of war. The opposition's hard-line stance in Ethiopia became clear in late 2004, when Zenawi's new peace proposal was decried in the press by his countrymen as a traitorous act. Fearing similar unrest, Afwerki has used the conflict as a pretext for limiting public dissent in Eritrea, postponing elections and arresting journalists. Eritrea now has more imprisoned journalists than any other African state. It seems that this conflict allows both Afwerki and Zenawi, former allies in the 1970s and 1980s, to cling to power under nationalist banners.

While there are already rhetorical battles between these politicians, the Ethio-Eritrean border dispute seems to rest on the brink of full-blown war. …