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Eritrea - Yemen Relations

After supporting Eritrean liberation forces in the late 1960s and most of the 1970s, in 1977 the Government of Yemen aligned itself with the Soviet Union and broke its relations with the liberation forces.

Yemens support to the Ethiopian Derg regime declined at the end of the 1980s, along with the Soviet Unions. Yemen established diplomatic relations with Eritrea in 1991 and recognised its independence in 1993. Despite important trading exchanges, though, the relations between the two countries suffered from an unclear delimitation of their maritime boundary in the Red Sea. This led to a dispute about Yemeni fishing in Eritrean waters, settled by an agreement reached in November 1994.

A second dispute erupted one year later, in November 1995, over the control of the Hanish Islands, a group of 23 hilly, barren islands, islets and rocks located at a point equidistant from the Eritrean and Yemeni coasts. Both Eritrea and Yemen claimed historic sovereignty over the archipelago, dating back to the Ottoman period. Tensions mounted when both Eritrean and Yemeni contingents occupied parts of the islands. In mid-December 1995 fighting erupted, leading to the killing of 12 soldiers from both sides and to the capture of 200 prisoners of war.

On 17 December, Eritrea and Yemen agreed to a cease-fire. After several attempts at mediation by Ethiopia, Egypt and France succeed in 1996 in bringing the dispute to the Permanent Court of Arbitration. After two years of proceedings, the Court concluded that the Hanish Islands should be under shared sovereignty. Both Eritrea and Yemen accepted the ruling, and since then relations between the two countries have been relatively stable in spite of repeated disputes over fishing.

Although the territorial dispute with Yemen over the Haynish Islands was settled by international arbitration, tensions over traditional fishing rights with Yemen resurfaced in 2002. The relationship to date remains cordial.

Relations with Yemen warmed considerably in 2004, when President Isaias visited Sana, and the two countries concluded agreements in areas such as cultural exchanges, security, and trade. Although relations with European nations, including Italy, Germany, Norway, and the Netherlands, have been close in the past, they chilled in the wake of the Eritrean governments crackdown on internal dissent in 2001 and the closure of the independent press.

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