February 16, 1999
ETHIOPIA-ERITREA DISPUTE: SOUR NOTES IN THE HORN OF AFRICA
Foreign observers in Africa and Europe lamented that "a full-scale war is raging between Ethiopia and Eritrea" despite the efforts of the Organization of Africa Unity, the UN Security Council and U.S. mediators. Ethiopian and Eritrean media each protested the violation of their country's "sovereignty" and signaled that the border dispute over the Badme region, a rocky and sparsely populated patch of mountain land along their 600-mile border, would be determined by military means. While Ethiopian writers pointed the finger of blame at Eritrea's "persistent refusal" to withdraw from the contested area, they also singled out interference by regional neighbors and indifference by the international community as contributing to the conflict's longevity. Condemning the world's perceived "reluctance to denounce" Eritrea's "invasion" of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa's independent thrice-weekly Monitor intoned, "Ethiopians may not have any illusions about their place in the priorities of wealthy Western nations like the United States, but they won't applaud such a trivialization of a noble cause. Such an approach negates...the fact that the poor have self-esteem and sovereignty in defense of which they are ready to die." Eritrea's independent, Tigrinia-language twice-a-week Tsghenay underscored the words of its foreign minister: "'America wants to control us and make us kneel down in all aspects. In our conflict with Ethiopia they are observed to help Ethiopia through excuses or keep siding with it.'" Meanwhile, onlookers everywhere wondered how to stop the fratricidal war, which many attribute to economic rivalry and national pride in both countries since Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in May 1993. These were themes:
OUTSIDE INFLUENCES: Ethiopian papers accused "distant enemies" Egypt and Libya of attempting to use the conflict to widen their influence in the region. The thrice-weekly, English-language, independent Monitor claimed that Egypt has been attempting "to fish" in Ethiopia's "troubled waters" for three decades in an effort "to weaken" the country. The paper charged that "Cairo is supporting Asmara" and may even be harboring "sinister plans" to "heat up the border between Ethiopia and Somalia by activating extremist religious groups" in a further effort to destabilize Ethiopia. The independent, Amharic-language weekly Reporter accused Libya of assisting Eritrea "with money, weapons, fuel and training of jet pilots" in defiance of the OAU's request for "Eritrea to withdraw from Ethiopian territory." The paper called on the OAU to rescind its "generous decision to lift the sanctions on Libya at the African level" considering "Libya's dangerous role" in the Horn.
'ABSURD WAR': Writers from Uganda to Hungary were mystified by the "absurd" and "senseless" war. Some traced the genesis of the dispute to colonial maps drawn up by the Italians who ruled Eritrea in the early 20th century. But even in these instances observers wondered how two very poor countries could massively rearm themselves--spending much more on weapons than they could reap from a possible victory--without seeming to consider a compromise. Kampala's national New Vision judged, "There is a lot of common economic interest, like Ethiopia's passage to the sea, and Eritrea's symbiotic reliance on Addis Ababa, which were all acknowledged at partition. Most critically, partition came peacefully. Why can the current conflict, too, not be settled through dialogue?"
This survey is based on 14 reports from 7 countries, January 27-February 16.
EDITOR: Gail Hamer Burke
The respected, independent Amharic weekly Reporter editorialized (2/15): "The last week has taught us a lot of lessons. It has shown us certain things that we must accept and reject in our effort to safeguard our sovereignty. As soon as the fighting [between Ethiopia and Eritrea] started, the Ethiopian people expressed their unreserved support for it while the international community revealed its absurd position bordering on ridicule. U.S. President Clinton declared, 'We will bring about peace without delay,' after sleeping over the matter for nine months. During these nine months, half-a-million of our compatriots were displaced; hundreds were killed by air strikes; and development activities were suspended. The UN Security Council said, 'If there is no immediate peace and the war does not stop, we will stop the two countries from buying arms.' Another amazing statement. It is a known fact that both countries possess arms that can destroy a large number of people. Instead of saying, 'we will make the EPLF answerable to the law to prevent further damage to the people,' they have been mocking us by stating, 'We will not sell you more arms.'
"The Ethiopian government should lend its ears neither to President Clinton's talk about bringing peace immediately nor the UN Security Council's resolution on imposing an arms embargo on both Ethiopia and Eritrea. Both Clinton and the UN have had ample time and would have had more if they were earnest about peace. Instead, the Ethiopian government must listen to the wishes of its own people who want their sovereignty respected. As for Eritrea's leaders, they must realize that they will pay a price for staying in Ethiopian territory and also after leaving it. This is the fate of all invaders. Note what happened to Hitler when he invaded and was forced out of Europe. The same was also true of Mussolini and Saddam Hussein."
"The External Connection"
The thrice-weekly, English-language, independent Monitor opined (2/13), "All the major wars and conflicts in which this country was involved over the past three decades had one major similarity. They had the Egyptian connection.... Where does Egypt stand now in relation to the current confrontation between Ethiopia and Eritrea? There are persistent reports that Cairo is supporting Asmara. Mind you, not because it believed in the cause of Eritrea but in the belief that the war would weaken Ethiopia. Moreover, there are allegations of sinister plans to heat up the border between Ethiopia and Somalia by activating extremist religious groups....
"The role of Libya also needs some consideration. Since the eruption of the conflict, Tripoli has played host to the Eritrean president at least six times. According to the media, the Isaias-Qadhafi meetings were all about bilateral trade and cultural ties. Libya's direct interest in supporting Asmara has never been clear to this observer. Some attribute it to the whims of an internationally ostracized leader who wants to show that he can make a difference.
"Two things can be said about the role of those who try to fish in troubled waters. Armaments can make a meaningful difference only when they fall into the hands of people with a genuine cause.... The other point which must be underlined is the level of unity Ethiopians demonstrated after the invasion of Badme by Eritrea and the effusive sense of patriotism engulfing the country.... Although wars are deemed by distant enemies as agents of weakening Ethiopia, the current conflict with Eritrea is proving the contrary. Irrespective of the wishes of others, Ethiopia will emerge from this war stronger and more united."
"Saving Eritrea And Ethiopia From Worst Disaster"
Respected, independent, English-language weekly Addis Tribune had this editorial (2/12):
"Many heads of state and organizations have expressed their disappointment and frustration at the resumption of war between Ethiopia and Eritrea.... Since Eritrea occupied Ethiopia's territory in May, 1998, attempts were made by United States and Rwanda, the OAU, and several other intermediaries to bring the two countries to a peaceful solution. Ethiopia has accepted all peace proposals, whereas Eritrea has rejected them all. To add more fuel to the fire, Eritrea started a military invasion on February 6 on the Badme-Shiraro front.... The ball is in the Eritrean court. The war can be stopped if Eritrea can agree to implement the OAU framework agreement. Eritrean authorities need to listen to and abide by the OAU and Security Council resolutions if they are to save both our countries from the cruel ravages of warfare."
"International Inaction Breeds War"
The independent, thrice-weekly Monitor opined (2/11), "By now the world must be alive to the fact that full-scale war is raging between Ethiopia and Eritrea. The current flare-up could scarcely surprise observers. There was ample time to study the genesis of the dispute and to follow its evolution. The single most important reason for the failure of all diplomatic initiatives has always been Eritrea's persistent refusal to assent to a proposed withdrawal of its troops from Badme and then to use nonviolent and legal means to advance any territorial claim it might have. The recommendation which was formulated by the OAU has the backing of the UN Security Council. The first and most important shortcoming of the international community was its reluctance to denounce the invasion. The world's great powers, which possess the technology and the channels to acquire reliable information on the genesis and development of conflicts, did know who the culprit was. But they either kept quiet or issued statements urging 'both parties to exercise restraint.' This implicit unwillingness to come out strongly against invasion must have emboldened Eritrea to persist with its defiance of the mediation efforts.... On various occasions in the past, the West has used an array of mechanisms such as sanctions and embargoes against some state which in one way or another undermined its vital interests. Unfortunately, there is no possibility of this if the problem doesn't directly affect the world's richest countries. The current war may have been avoided if sufficient international pressure was applied against Eritrea. Ethiopia has always been ready to pursue the case at pertinent international fora. In demanding the restoration of the status quo ante, Ethiopia hasn't asked for the moon.... Ethiopians may not have any illusions about their place in the priorities of wealthy Western nations like the United States, but they won't applaud such a trivialization of a noble cause. Such an approach negates the fundamental self-defense instinct inherent in all biological or social organisms and the fact that the poor have self-esteem and sovereignty in defense of which they are ready to die....
"During his tour of Africa last year, President Clinton admitted that the failure of the international community to react promptly was partly to blame for the massacre of more than 800,000 people in Rwanda in 1994. Although the Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict is completely different in nature, its consequences are bound to become a cause of regret for the international community."
"Is The Key To The War In The Hands Of The U.S. Or?..."
Independent, Amharic-language weekly Mebrek opined (2/4), "The United States is the only superpower in the world today, and since the end of the Cold War, it has been carrying out activities that run contrary to the interests of the people. It is a well-known fact that the United States had the power to stop the invasion of the EPLF against Ethiopia. However, after sending Anthony Lake to the region for fruitless mediations, the United States has, at the most critical moment when peace-loving people were eagerly awaiting the settlement of the conflict, warned its citizens to take precautions and not to travel to Asmara or Addis Ababa.
"This shows that the United States is concerned only for its citizens' interests and not for the welfare and peace of other nations. Although President Clinton called for a moratorium on air strikes after innocent civilians were killed following the bombings in Adigrat and Mekele, the United States failed to push through to resolve the crisis. Consequently, the EPLF took advantage to stockpile its arms supply including military jets. In fact, it looked as if the United States had a secret mission of fomenting chaos and conflict in the region. The possibility that the sacrifices of our peoples to attain peace does not bear fruit and the fact that the U.S.-led UN has not taken any practical steps to stop the conflict, has led us to question whether the key to the war is in the hands of the United States. Although war is inevitable, we have to stand up with determination to defeat the EPLF and those anti-peace and anti-Africa elements who, either openly or secretly, are aligned with the EPLF. We will attain victory through the anti-invader stand of our people and the valor of our defense forces to defend our country."
"Libya's Dangerous Role"
Independent, Amharic-language weekly Reporter declared (2/1), "Libya has defied the aims and objectives of the OAU despite the OAU's generous decision to lift the sanctions on Libya at the African level. Firmly opposing the OAU decision that called on Eritrea to withdraw from Ethiopian territories, Libya has chosen to assist Eritrea with money, weapons, fuel and training of jet pilots, etc., thus encouraging Eritrea to persevere in its aggression. Considering Libya's dangerous role, it is proper to ask whether sanctions must be considered by African countries. Ethiopia had supported the lifting of sanctions against Libya. In view of Libya's open hostility, however, it should make its position on Libya very clear."
ERITREA: "American Policy Then...And Now"
The government weekly Eritrea Profile had this comment by Sara Tecle (2/6): "We are now hearing that the U.S. officials are pushing for Eritrea to endorse outright the OAU proposals or framework of agreements, put forward by the African heads of state. If the object is to work for peace in this region, as it should be, then should not the first and foremost thing be to ask the Ethiopian government to rescind its declaration of war on Eritrea?... To argue that Ethiopian administration should be re-installed in the Badme area defies any accepted logic or common sense. Under any legal system known, things in dispute are held in trust until a determination is made who it belongs to."
"We Will Never Fire The First Bullet"
Government Tigrinia thrice-a-week Hadas Eritrea commented on the front-page (2/2), "In an interview with the Eritrean television the day before yesterday, President Isaias Afwerki explained that the Eritrean government will remain engaged in the OAU peace process and will stick to a peaceful settlement of the dispute until the last.... President Isaias reaffirmed 'that Eritrea will never fire the first bullet' even as Ethiopia pushes its agenda of war. In connection to this, President Isaias stated that Eritrea was explaining its reservations to avoid complications on the OAU peace process due to the strange sequence of events seemed to reflect the personalized actions of some officials and organizations in the State Department."
"Foreign Minister On Conflict"
Independent Tigrinia twice-a-week Tsghenay (1/27), referring to the interview of the
Eritrean foreign minister, Ato Haile Woldetensae, with Alwatan newspaper, said "Responding in the interview...to the difference between Eritrea and America, the foreign minister, Ato Haile Woldetensae said, 'America wants to control us and make us kneel down in all aspects. In our conflict with Ethiopia they are observed to help Ethiopia through excuses or keep siding with it.
"And, this is because they want us to withdraw from Badme and want the Ethiopian civil administration to return. They say, that this is in order to bring a temporary solution.
For our part, we will condemn and challenge any force or power which forces us to withdraw from our own land and sovereignty."
KENYA: "Try Diplomacy To End African Wars"
An editorial in the centrist Daily Nation held (2/12): "There can be no military solution to the wars breaking out like bush fires all over Africa, American Defense Secretary William Cohen says. Strong statement, yes, but the top United States defense official could not have put it in a more forthright way.... It is time countries experiencing strife took the diplomatic approach more seriously and spared their citizens the agony and misery of drawn out conflicts."
UGANDA: "Needless, Needless"
The national daily New Vision opined (2/11), "The conflict lies in the dispute over a small piece of territory, whose demarcation when Ethiopia granted Eritrea independence in 1993, was not clearly done. When the conflict first broke out last year, a geopolitical observer compared it to two bald headed men fighting for a comb. This is not far from the truth. The triangle over which they are fighting is just a little piece of barren land. Eritrea and Ethiopia are two of Africa's poorest nations, whose destinies are otherwise tied together and would best be cultivated for mutual benefit. Indeed, the authorities in power in Asmara and in Addis Ababa both fought on the same side resisting the Mengistu dictatorship in the 1980s and early 1990s. They were each exemplary in the way Eritrea was granted independence from Ethiopia, and stood out as icons of a progressive Africa.
"It is therefore both ironical and needless to be fighting over a small, barren piece of land when there are bigger issues at stake. There is a lot of common economic interest, like Ethiopia's passage to the sea, and Eritrea's symbiotic reliance on Addis Ababa, which were all acknowledged at partition. Most critically, partition came peacefully. Why can the current conflict, too, not be settled through dialogue?"
EGYPT: "America Silent On Arms Trade Through Israeli Tradesmen"
Rabie Shahin, columnist for Islamist-leaning opposition Al Shaab, said (2/16): "The crisis is seriously deteriorating. Washington withdrew its citizens from the two countries, after it contributed to igniting the strife. The American role started to side with one party against another. It has been silent on the arms trade through the Israeli tradesmen."
GERMANY: "War As A Means To An End"
Left-of-center Frankfurter Rundschau opined (2/9), "The dispute that is driving a wedge between Ethiopia and Eritrea and has led to a new war is not on the list of problems that cannot be resolved. Why should reasonable people not reach an agreement about a few hundred square kilometers of mountainous land even if it is arable and may contain gold? What we do not see on both sides is good will. Both sides have used the period since the end of the previous confrontation seven months ago massively to rearm themselves and to spend much more on weapons than they could reap from a possible victory. How is it possible that two very poor countries in the Horn of Africa can massively rearm themselves without caring at all about a compromise?
"This obstinacy and stubbornness are probably based on the experience of both leadership cliques as well as broad parts of society. The powers-that-be in Ethiopia and Eritrea waged wars for decades and won in the end. And what are the conclusions which the people and the rulers draw from such horrible wars? In Addis Ababa and Asmara, the answer is: War is possible any time and fighting is a means to achieve a political end. The ability to make compromises and to achieve consensus are not very apparent in the Horn of Africa."
HUNGARY: "Bloody Border Dispute With Economic Background"
Foreign affairs writer Eszter Almassy commented (2/10) in centrist right Magyar Nemzet, "This war has been called absurd and senseless by many. The escalating war on the Horn of Africa, according to some reports, has claimed some 200,000 lives yet and many thousand have been injured. International organizations, such as the UN , is especially worried about the crisis. They fear that the conflict might spread wider. It is typical of the two side's souring relations that they have grabbed arms exactly the time when the special envoy to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Algerian Mohamed Sahnun, tries to mediate between them."
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