Ethiopia and Eritera in Conflict: Border Demarca Tion on the Basis of Colonial "Treaties" and Prospect for Permanent Peace

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Addis Ababa University


A relationship of comrades - in - arms between EPLF and TPLF leaders since the latter's creation, and fri endship and cooperation that existed between Ethiopia and Eritrea in 1991 - 1998 suddenly changed into armed conflict in May 1998. It is on 6 May 1998 a small group of Eritrean soldiers entered a di sputed territorial zone on the Badme plains a long t he western borders 0 f Eritrea and Tigray, the northern most regional state in the Ethiopian federation. The move was intended to mark Eritrean presence and interests in these areas, and to substantiate the Eritrean position in already ongoing border negotiations between the two governments. The handful of Eritrean soldiers were confronted by Tigrean militia and security police and asked to put down their arms and return to undisputed territories. A shoot-out between the Eritrean unit and the local militia fo llowed, resulting in a few casua lties on both sides. In this study, attempts have been made to investigate and identify the causes of the conflict. Whether the colonial "treaties" which have been made the basis for the Decision of EEBC are tenable and whether border demarcation on the basis of colonial "treaties" could serve the prospects for permanent peace and stability have also been explored. In this connection, the question of demarcation of borders and areas of normalization of relations has been discussed. The study further explored the prospects for future relations between the two countries. Here, factors conducive for ·peaceful relationship, such as economic factors, geopolitical factors, the historical and socio-cultural ties binding the two countries have been examined. The following major points emerge from the analysis. The Ethio-Eritrean conflict of May 1998 cannot be explained by a single factor as its cause; it can only be explained by a combination of factors. Colonial legacy, border issue, nationalism, ethnicity, etc, were considered by some people to be the main causes of the conflict. Though these might have contributed to the conflict, the main cause of the conflict relates to historical, political and economic issues. Despite the fact that intern ational media and Eritrean trace the cause of the conflict to be the border issue, it has only served as a pretext to trigger the conflict. Accordingly, peace efforts that focus excl usively on the border issue and demarcation using colonial "treaty" will not result in lasting peace. How is it possible for two formerly friendly groups, who fought the military regime in unison, to tum into deadly adversaries in a matter of weeks, wi lling to sacrifice tens of thousands of tlieir people on the battlefields? Why mobilize people and resources on such a scale that resulted in the loss of many lives, if the reason for the war is - as it is offi cially stated - some relatively marginal square kilometers of agricultural land that could have been delimitated on the basis of colonial "treaty" as it was agreed later on? It is truly a senseless war if we rely on such offi cial reasoning - but may there be some hidden motives for the war that explain the intense ferocity demonstrated by the two warring parties? Could Colonial "Treaties" be tenable and valid basis for the dec ision of the border issue? Does this h ave the capacity to bring permanent p eace? These are the questions t his thes is attempts to answer



Ethiopia and Eritera in Conflict