Ethiopia Claims Eritreans Never Controlled Area

Article excerpt

Berhane Gebre-Christos, Ethiopia's ambassador to the United States, spoke with Assistant Foreign Editor Gus Constantine.

Question: Ethiopia in 1991 became the first country to allow itself to break up, with Eritrea going its own way. How is it that the Ethiopian government under Meles Zenawi could give up so much in 1991 and is ready to go to war over 250 square miles of land today?

Answer: In 1991 they controlled Eritrea militarily. So we believed that we should respect the rights of the Eritrean people to decide their destiny.

Q: Does the Yigra triangle, the area in dispute, have any value to either party except as a matter of principle?

A: This triangle was not part of Eritrea under the years of the British protectorate. Neither was it a part of Eritrea when the latter was a province of Ethiopia under the emperors.

Q: I understand there has been a commission to discuss the disputed border. If what you say is true, why the commission? Why didn't you just tell the Eritreans that this is our land, there is nothing to discuss?

A: The issue has become controversial because the Eritreans are looking for a land which has never been theirs. Moreover, the government is trying to take this land by force.

They can come forward with claims. But we have to solve such claims in a civilized manner. We set up a committee to listen to their case. But this territory is part of Ethiopia and has to be defended if force is used to change the status quo.

Q: What has to be done?

A: The Eritreans have to withdraw and re-establish the status quo. Then we can go to arbitration. …