Israel‘s ambassador to Ethiopia, Oded Ben-Haim, in an interview with Ethiopia’s Walta Information Center, charged that Eritrea is trying to destabilize the peace process in the Horn of Africa, and serving as a save haven for terrorist groups. Ben-Haim especially accused Eritrea of supporting and arming al-Shabab, the insurgent group in Somalia, and also asserted Eritrean ties to the Palestinian Hamas. He called upon Ethiopia to “continue bringing stability in the Horn of Africa and to the whole continent.” (WIC, March 19)
Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki meanwhile harshly rejected any effort to mediate his border dispute with Ethiopia. Last week, Ethiopia said it supported efforts by Libyan leader and new African Union chairman Moammar Qaddafi to arbitrate between Addis Ababa and Asmara, but doubted the initiative would be successful. “The political and diplomatic campaigns undertaken by [Ethiopia] are but wicked ploys designed to appease the Eritrean people and international community,” Eritrean state media quoted Isaias as saying.
The Eritrean leader emphasized that “as long as sovereign Eritrean territories remain under occupation, engaging in dialogue about any issue is totally illogical.” A 2002 border decision by the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC) gave the flashpoint border town of Badme to Eritrea, but Ethiopia initially rejected the ruling. Addis Ababa has since said it wants further talks.
Eritrea is also involved in a border dispute with Djibouti; the two countries briefly want to war last year, and tensions remain high. In mid-January, the UN Security Council gave Eritrea five weeks to withdraw its forces from the Red Sea coastal area of Ras Doumeira and Doumeira Island. Asmara has rejected the call. (Angola Press, Feb. 24)
Following the brief Eritrea-Djibouti war last year, Jeffrey Gettleman New York Times, May 25, 2008:
Despite the fact that these two countries barely register on the map, it is the map itself that is part of the problem. Scholars say that the border area was never properly demarcated, and that the best guidance as to who owns what goes back to a vague communiqué between France and Italy more than 100 years ago. They were the colonial powers at the time, with France occupying what is now Djibouti and Italy controlling what is now Eritrea.
According to John Donaldson, a research associate at the International Boundaries Research Unit, a British institute that studies border disputes, France and Italy agreed in 1901 that no third country could rule the Doumeira area, and that specific border issues would be dealt with later.
“It’s very complicated,” he said. “But the question was basically left up in the air.”
Djiboutian officials said the Eritreans made a play for this area in the mid-1990s, producing old documents and saying that the territory was theirs. But Djiboutian officials said that their trump card is an 1897 treaty between Ethiopia and France that clearly states that the Doumeira area was French.
According to the Djiboutian government, the Eritreans asked in January if they could cross the border to get some sand to build a road. Instead, they occupied a hilltop and started digging trenches.
“In one word, they cheated,” said Col. Ali Soubaneh Chirdon, who commands the Djiboutian soldiers lined up on the border.
The move seemed to be part of Eritrea’s less-than-neighborly relations with just about all of its neighbors. In the 1990s, Eritrea clashed with Yemen over the Hanish Islands in the Red Sea; battled Sudan-backed rebels on its western frontier; and fought Ethiopia, the second most populous country in sub-Saharan Africa, over a little border town called Badme. That conflict killed 100,000 people and is still not resolved.
But Gettleman offered no quote from an Eritrean official.
See our last post on the Horn of Africa.