Ethiopia and Eritrea: Stopping the Slide to War

Posted in Africa | 06-Nov-07 | Source: International Crisis Group

Nairobi/New York/Brussels, 5 November 2007: The international community must act urgently to prevent Ethiopia and Eritrea from resuming their war and potentially throwing the entire Horn of Africa into new turmoil.

Ethiopia and Eritrea: Stopping the Slide to War,* the latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, warns of the real risk of renewed conflict and calls on the international community to move fast to stop it. The UN Security Council and the U.S. in particular must give both sides the clearest message that no destabilising unilateral action will be tolerated, and that the parties must comply with their obligations under international law, disengage on the ground and restore the demilitarised Temporary Security Zone (TSZ).

“The military build-up on both sides has reached alarming proportions, and war could break out again within weeks,” says Gareth Evans, Crisis Group President. “There will be no easy military solution if that happens: we are looking at a protracted conflict on Eritrean soil, destabilisation of Ethiopia and a horrible new humanitarian crisis”.

Both sides had agreed in Algiers in 2000 to submit their border dispute to the Boundary Commission and accept its decision as final and binding. However, since its ruling in April 2002, Ethiopia has blocked physical demarcation of the border; Eritrea, with legal right on its side, then alienated many of its supporters by blocking the work of the UN peacekeepers. The issue will come to a decisive head – with a real risk of fighting breaking out – at the end of November, when the Boundary Commission has indicated it will close down unless it is allowed to proceed to demarcation.

The UN Security Council and the U.S. must urgently make it clear to both sides that no use of force will be tolerated and that a party that resorts to it will be held accountable. Specifically, the U.S. should send a firm message to Ethiopia, that it will take diplomatic and economic measures against it if it attacks Eritrea. The Security Council should pass a resolution reiterating its support for the Boundary Commission decision and requesting it to remain beyond the end of November.

The UN should also stress the requirements on Ethiopia to accept the Boundary Commission ruling and on Eritrea to withdraw its army from the TSZ. Members of the Security Council and other key international players should discuss economic incentives and disincentives that would likely be required to obtain cooperation in de-escalating the situation on the ground and implementing the Commission decision.

“In the next weeks, urgent outside assistance is needed to ensure that the shooting does not resume,” says Don Steinberg, Crisis Group Vice President for Multilateral Affairs. “International indifference or mistaken confidence could cost the people of the Horn of Africa dearly and lead to a new protracted conflict in the region”.

Contacts: Andrew Stroehlein (Brussels) 32 (0) 2 541 1635
Giulia Previti (Washington) 1 202 785 1601

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*Read the full Crisis Group briefing 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.