Eritrea-Ethiopia: Has the Algiers Accord been Ditched?
By Anaclet Rwegayura
June 1, 2004
Frustration continues to veil
efforts of the international community in the bid to reconcile Eritrea and
Ethiopia, simply because the two neighbours are showing no sign of conceding to
A lot of attention, albeit at an
increasingly heavy cost, has been paid to these countries and the Horn of
Africa in general since Eritrea's breakaway from Ethiopia in 1993, while nearby
Somalia drifted into anarchy from which it is yet to recover.
Through avenues of the United Nations
and the African Union, the international community has tried every way possible
to craft a diplomatic normalisation of relations between Addis Ababa and
Asmara, but the outcome has not been promising. Rows and recriminations from
the two capitals have punctuated the process that, as a result, now appears
Demarcation of the
1,000-kilometre Ethiopia-Eritrea border, scheduled for completion by November
last year, is the trying issue. When the two-year war over the frontier ended
in 2000 and a peace agreement was signed in Algiers, Algeria, before the end of
the year, the world thought normalcy was dawning on the two countries. Instead,
each side has turned its back on the other.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan
had welcomed the pact as a "victory for the voice of reason, for the power
of diplomacy..." Then what has since turned these two instruments blunt
and reversed the victory?
The Ethiopia-Eritrea Boundary
Commission early March 2004 courteously reported to the UN Security Council that,
for reasons beyond its control, it had been unable to progress with demarcation
activities. It blamed no party to the conflict, but the dissension on the
Commission's decision is obvious. Ethiopia may have made a false step or
overlooked certain aspects in striking the peace deal, under which the
international community insists that the Border Commission's decision is final
Asmara may not be holding all
the cards at the present stage, but it maintains that the decision, by which
the Commission awarded part of the disputed territory to Eritrea, cannot be
open for re- negotiation. But Ethiopia's objections are likely to keep the
demarcation on hold for a long period of time.
Who will then end the deadlock and
put the Ethiopia-Eritrea relations on the mend? For this unenviable task that
person should first have his feet firm on the ground and be assured of support
from both parties. Is it Lloyd Axworthy, the UN Secretary-General's Special
Envoy for Ethiopia and Eritrea?
Axworthy, an eloquent statesman
and Canada's former foreign affairs minister, was given the job to explore with
the two governments "how best the current impasse in the implementation of
the Algiers Agreement could be overcome". The envoy has had consultation
with Ethiopian authorities, but Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki insists that
his side would meet with Axworthy if his mandate and terms of reference are
Meanwhile, peacekeepers in the
temporary security zone, a swathe running the full length of the border, have
for some time reported undue restrictions in carrying out their mandated
operations. The border area remains militarily stable, but Eritrean authorities
have barred vehicular movement of the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea
(UNMEE) on a vital road link from Asmara via Karen to Barentu.
Goings-on from the Eritrean side
prompted the UN headquarters on 14 May 2004 to issue a statement in which the
Secretary-General expressed dismay at the recent public attacks made by the
Eritrean authorities against the UNMEE and its staff, as well as the
restrictions imposed on its operations. The statement warned that the tone and
scope of the unfortunate statements by the Eritrean authorities can seriously
impact on the effectiveness of the Mission, and could also endanger the
security of its personnel.
The Secretary-General expressed
hope that Eritrea would engage UNMEE in a constructive manner, "allowing
the Mission the indispensable freedom of movement and the necessary cooperation
to carry out its mandate in accordance with the Algiers Agreements and the
relevant Security Council resolutions."
When leaders of the African
Union assemble in Addis Ababa from 6- 8 July 2004 for the third ordinary
summit, the Ethiopia-Eritrea issue will be among conflict situations on their
agenda. Given the tension arising from the current impasse, the AU Commission
is well aware of the potential for the conflict to sear.
Therefore, the AU summit should
encourage the two countries to find peaceful ways of overcoming hurdles
hindering the implementation of the agreements they signed so that relations
could be normalised. Afwerki is not expected to turn up in the Ethiopian
capital for the summit, but the message must be delivered in Asmara.