Close

Eritrea's Occupied Border

“If Ethiopia withdraws its army from occupied sovereign Eritrean territory including the town of Badme in the morning, dialogue between the two countries will start in the afternoon.” ~ Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki

The Claims

As both Ethiopia and Eritrea have ventured to formalize governmental administration, territories belonging to the other were claimed by regional administrations. Ultimately these claims led to conflict and a subsequent peace treaty which created a Border Commission to delimit and demarcate the boundary. After the Commission’s ruling, Ethiopia argued that the decision should be reopened while Eritrea asserted the decision was “final & binding” based on the treaty. The Commission agreed with Eritrea and demarcated the border while Ethiopia refused to withdraw its troops. Eritrea has asked the international community to encourage Ethiopia to respect international law and withdraw from Eritrean territory. The international community has not acted since the Border Commission’s ruling in 2002.

Historical Context

The northern extent of the Ethiopian Empire was settled through a series of treaties between it and Italy in 1900, 1902, and 1908. For a millennia before, the extent of the proto-states in the interior and the coastal regions that would become Eritrea was marked by the Mereb River, with control varying throughout the centuries. After Italy’s defeat in World War II, the United Nations disposed of Eritrea through a Federal arrangement with Ethiopia. Ethiopia unilaterally dissolved the arrangement and Eritreans fought a 30 year Struggle for Independence. Throughout the post-Independence period Eritrea sought to formalize its boundaries to secure its independence. Beginning in 1997 however, border settlements were occupied by Ethiopia and a Joint Border Commission set up by Eritrea and Ethiopia came to a stalemate. In 1998 Ethiopia declared war. The war ended in 2000 with Eritrea and Ethiopia agreeing to a new, independent Border Commission whose decision would be “final & binding.” Its decision was issued in 2002 to much acclaim. More than 150,000 Ethiopian troops however, continue to occupy regions ruled to be in Eritrea.

“The unsettled border issue has acted as a festering sore, infecting the entire region.” ~ Michela Wrong

The Numbers

The human and economic costs of the border conflict have scarred the minds’ of people in the region while affecting the greater Horn of Africa. Below, the combined costs of Eritrea & Ethiopia in the conflict are aggregated.

100,000+
KILLED

$1 BILLION+
SPENT

250,000+
TROOPS
FACE-OFF

“One of the reasons we are in this dilemma is that the government of Ethiopia has never complied with its obligations under the 2000 agreement and the 2002 border demarcation … [and also because of] the council’s unwillingness or inability to confront Ethiopia’s refusal to adhere to the very agreement it made in 2000.” ~ US Ambassador John Bolton

Competing Peace Programs

No Preconditions (Eritrea)

1. Immediate withdrawal of troops based on the Boundary Commission’s internationally accepted determination.

2. Subsequent normalization of relations between Eritrea and Ethiopia.

5 Point Plan (Ethiopia)

1. Resolve the dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea only through peaceful means.

2. Resolve the root causes of the conflict through dialogue with the view to normalizing relations between the two countries.

3. Ethiopia accepts, in principle, the Ethiopia-Eritrea Boundary Commission decision.

4. Ethiopia agrees to pay its dues to the Ethiopia-Eritrea Boundary Commission and to appoint field liaison officers.

5. Start dialogue immediately with the view to implementing the Ethiopia-Eritrea Boundary Commission’s decision in a manner consistent with the promotion of sustainable peace and brotherly ties between the two peoples.

How Do These Plans Vary?

The “No Preconditions” program calls for troops to be immediately withdrawn to the international boundary according to the treaty, while the “5 Point” program maintains an occupation and disregards the demarcation of the international boundary. The “5 Point” program proposes re-opening existing understandings and reversing course on the internationally brokered peace treaty.

Policy Options

To the United Nations Security Council

1. Endorse, formally, the EEBC’s demarcation of the border and declare it legally binding;

2. Demand disengagement of troops from the border, including withdrawal of Ethiopian troops to behind the EEBC’s demarcation;

3. Encourage normalisation of bilateral diplomatic, political and economic relations; and

4. Support the construction of physical border markers.

To the Governments of Eritrea and Ethiopia

1. Accept the EEBC’s demarcation and promptly withdraw forces from the border;

2. End support for the other’s armed opposition and other proxies and conclude a bilateral pact of non-aggression; and

3. Engage in bilateral diplomatic and political discussions.

To the U.S. and EU

1. Urge immediate withdrawal of troops to their respective sides of the border;

2. Make clear that any party that breaches the international boundary and reignites war will pay a heavy price, and alert Addis Ababa that its strategic partnership with the U.S. will suffer a devastating blow if it moves militarily against Eritrea; and

3. Make clear their constructive participation in bilateral diplomatic and political discussions will be supported by generous redevelopment support for affected regions.

To the Donor Community

Provide financial support for post-conflict reconstruction projects for populations displaced from the border, demobilisation and reintegration programs and initiatives to promote increased cross-border trade, communications and social exchanges.