Beyond the Fragile Peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea: Averting New War

Posted in Africa | 17-Jun-08 | Source: International Crisis Group

Eritrean soldiers withdraw from Bure after clashes with Ethiopia in 2000.


Nairobi/Brussels, 17 June 2008: The Ethiopia-Eritrea impasse is a major source of instability in the Horn of Africa region and risks becoming a new deadly war.

Beyond the Fragile Peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea: Averting New War,* the latest report from the International Crisis Group, analyses the frozen border conflict between two states who fought a major war in 1998-2000 and recommends an approach to overcome the stalemate. Following Ethiopia’s refusal to accept virtual demarcation of the border by the now defunct Ethiopia-Eritrea Boundary Commission (EEBC), Asmara unilaterally implemented it and forced out the UN peacekeeping mission (UNMEE), significantly raising the stakes and shattering the status quo.

“The departure of the Boundary Commission and the UN peacekeepers has made this conflict much more dangerous, removing the means both for dialogue between the parties and for stopping small problems from escalating”, says Andebrhan Giorgis, Crisis Group’s Senior Africa Adviser. “Neither regime wants war at present. Both prefer to keep tensions simmering, giving them an excuse to maintain authoritarian rule, but a minor border incident or miscalculation could produce a disastrous return to conflict”.

The Security Council has been largely passive, refusing to take strong action against either Ethiopia for breaking its commitment under the 2000 Algiers peace agreements to accept the EEBC border decisions or Eritrea for its provocations. Preoccupation with its counter-terrorism concerns has made the U.S. unwilling to use its influence with Ethiopia. But the bilateral dispute is also increasingly dangerous for the region, in particular in Somalia, where Eritrean proxies are fighting Ethiopian troops who support the Transitional Federal Government.

It will not be easy to overcome either the parties’ entrenched positions or the West’s neglect, but the stakes are too high not to make an attempt. A strongly backed international action plan which reconfigures the old failed process from the 2000 peace agreements is needed to break the deadlock.

The immediate priority is to persuade Ethiopia to withdraw from all land the EEBC awarded Eritrea, and Eritrea to pull back from the Temporary Security Zone. Wider dialogue on normalisation of relations demanded by Ethiopia should start in parallel with progressive border demarcation required by Eritrea. This would be consistent with Security Council resolutions, which demanded both Ethiopian implementation of EEBC decisions and the start of a normalisation dialogue, but might also give both sides more reason to show flexibility, since each would get something it wants early in the process.

“The basic goals remain to get Ethiopia to accept the border, Eritrea to accept the need for dialogue and the international community to provide the real carrots and sticks needed to press the parties”, says Daniela Kroslak, Africa Program Deputy Director.

Contacts: Andrew Stroehlein (Brussels) +32 (0) 2 541 1635
Kimberly Abbott (Washington) +1 202 785 1601

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*Read the full Crisis Group report on our website:

The International Crisis Group (Crisis Group) is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organisation covering some 60 crisis-affected countries and territories across four continents, working through field-based analysis and high-level advocacy to prevent and resolve deadly conflict.