No breakthrough, Ethiopia remains defiant
ABABA, 25 Nov 2004 (IRIN) - Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has announced
a five-point plan to try and end the stalemate with Eritrea, saying his country
would accept "in principle", the April 2002 ruling of the independent
boundary commission that was intended to end hostilities between the two
Reiterating his call for dialogue with Eritrea, Meles told the Ethiopian
parliament on Thursday that his country would end its two-and-a-half year
opposition to the commission's contested border ruling. He added that the
current standoff with Eritrea could "derail" development in Ethiopia.
Meles, however, insisted that the ruling on their 1,000-km frontier with
Eritrea, which sparked a bloody two-year war, was still "illegal and
unjust". Any attempt to implement the Hague-based decision, he added,
"might lead to a serious escalation of the tension between the two
countries and thereby undermine the peace".
He said some "give and take" and further dialogue was needed before
the border could be physically marked out, adding that adjustments to the
ruling should be made to the delimitation decision when necessary.
"In the course of the dialogue, it is critical that the negotiations take
into account and the resulting agreement be based on two key considerations:
the acceptance by Ethiopia - in principle, of the decision of the commission,
on the one hand - and adherence to the principle of give and take on the
other," Meles said.
In a 35-minute speech, the Ethiopian leader called for the "root
causes" of the conflict to be resolved through dialogue to help end
tensions along their common frontier and normalise relations.
"Durable and sustainable peace is, moreover, in the mutual interest of the
two peoples," he said. "Normalisation and good neighbourliness
between the two countries is in the interest of peace and in their mutual
Meles told the parliamentarians that, while Ethiopia still maintained its
opposition to the border ruling, the real battle faced by the country was
"However, this matter is not more important than peace," he added,
re-affirming the country’s commitment to solve the standoff peacefully.
"In light of the struggle, we are engaged in development and good
governance," he said. "It is imperative that all these, that could
become obstacles to the realisation of these major objectives, are subordinated
to the need for the achievement of those objectives as well as to the objective
Describing the unresolved problem between Ethiopia and Eritrea as
"ominous", Meles said his new initiative would "strengthen the
struggle for peace" and was sparked by "the realisation that Eritrea
steadfastly refused to accept earlier attempts to try and resolve the
The boundary commission was set up by Ethiopia and Eritrea under the Algiers
peace deal to resolve the dispute over the border that sparked war. As many as
70,000 people were killed during fighting, which ended in December 2000 and
cost the two nations an estimated US $1 million a day. Still, Ethiopia rejected
the ruling shortly after its announcement and actual demarcation of the border
- that aimed to bring peace - was indefinitely suspended.
In particular, Ethiopia rejected a decision to award the symbolic border town
of Badme, where the war flared up in May 1998, to neighbouring Eritrea. Eritrea
has declined to enter into dialogue with Ethiopia, calling on its neighbour to
implement the border ruling in full.
To keep the two apart, the UN maintains a peacekeeping force of 3,800 troops
patrolling the border between the two Horn-of-Africa countries.
In his five-point peace plan, Meles said Ethiopia was committed to solving the
dispute with Eritrea through peaceful means.
"It is only when the resort to force is ruled out, as an alternative means
to resolving disputes, that it would be possible to realise durable and
sustainable peace," he said.
Ethiopia, he added, would allow boundary commission staff to carry out their
work to prepare for eventual implementation of the ruling. However, no date was
given when that might start. He also agreed that Ethiopia would pay its share
of costs towards the boundary commission, which had been put on hold.
The house endorsed the peace deal with 428 voting in favour, 10 objections and
three abstentions. Opposition MP, Beyene Petros, vice-chairman of the United
Ethiopian Democratic Forces, a 14-strong coalition of opposition groups,
however, voted against the proposal.
"The proposal is too ambiguous for us," he said after the vote.
"We are unsure what the government means by give and take. We think they
may sacrifice territory as part of this give and take, and this is of serious
concern to us."
Meles told the MPs that by accepting the decision, the "concerns" of
the international community regarding Ethiopia’s stand would now be removed.
In reaction to the announcement, Reuters news agency quoted Yemane Gebremeskel,
director in the office of Eritrean President, Isayas Afewerki, as saying:
"The agreement is clear. The decision has to be accepted and implemented
in full. There are no qualifications. If the acceptance is serious then the
demarcation, which is long overdue, has to be implemented. If it is a public
relations exercise, then it would not be helpful."
It quoted the African Union (AU) President, Alpha Omar Konare, as saying:
"Ethiopia's acceptance of the decision shows to the world how Africa
should deal with its conflicts through negotiations and dialogue. Any war
between Ethiopia and Eritrea would have been a serious blow to Africa."