Eritrea has sent a delegate to discuss the peace deal with Ethiopia two weeks after Ethiopia announced it was ready to accept it.
Ethiopia said that it would accept the agreement that requires the country to cease its occupation of the town of Badme and other surrounding territories. This was the outcome of a border ruling determined by the Hague boundary commission back in 2002.
In the agreement both nations agreed to comply with the findings of the commission. At the end of the war Ethiopia had all the disputed territory and had moved into Eritrea, but in 13 April 2002 the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission delivered its “final and binding ruling.” It said that the town of Badme and other disputed territories belonged to Eritrea. Ethiopia continued to remain in the territory despite this.
This reignited the conflict that was settled with the 2000 peace agreement and has left 80 000 people dead and has degenerated into a stalemate. Hundreds more died in subsequent years in periodic border clashes.
On June 5th, Ethiopia’s ruling party, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, said that it would finally accept the border ruling and will be expected to unconditionally withdraw its forces from all occupied Eritrean territories. Eritrea did not respond until now.
Eritrea is sending a delegate to negotiate the acceptance of this deal increases that hope that one of the bloodiest conflicts in the Horn of Africa will be resolved soon. The countries are closely bound not only by proximity but also by language, culture, religion, and ethnicity.
In his commencement speech earlier this year, Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, said that he was determined to make peace with Eritrea. In a nationally televised event for Eritrean Martyr’s Day, President of Eritrea Isaias Afwerki said both peoples yearn for peace and recent changes in Ethiopia are making that possible.
“We will send a delegation to Addis Ababa to gauge current developments directly and in depth as well as to chart out a plan for continuous future action,” he said, according to an official translation of the speech.
“The Eritrean people, but also the Ethiopian people, have lost an opportunity of two generations for over half a century,” Afwerki added.
According to Martin Plau, author of Understanding Eritrea, this is one of the biggest developments since the end of the war in 2000 and the rejection of the boundary agreement.
Eritrea is a mountainous coastal country of just over 5 million. When it gained independence in 1993, the country landlocked Ethiopia. Ethiopia could benefit economically from access to these ports.
Ethiopia has also become one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa, while Eritrea has remained secluded from the outside world. It is known for being the most censored country in the word, above North Korea. Peace with Ethiopia could also remove the justification for Eritrea remaining on war footing, which has prompted thousands to leave the country, according to Plaut. It might encourage a change in Isaias’s regime.
“If it is successful, there will no longer be any reason to have 100,000s of Eritreans trapped in indefinite military service and postponing having democratic elections,” says Pla. “And that will make the situation much harder for President Isaias in the long run.”
There, however, have also been protests in Badme. They are insisting that the decision to leave has invalidated the deaths of those who died in the fighting. The dominant political party in that area, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, also expressed opposition to the decision.
When coming under criticism for the move during a question and answer session during parliament on Monday, Abiy defended himself by reminding them that he was part of the army that drove Eritrea out of Badme. “I was standing in that village when we put up flag and I cried. Many of my friends who fought in that war, we had to bury,” said Abiy, a former lieutenant colonel in the army. “I paid the price.” He also emphasized that it was time to end the war and bring prosperity to the people living in that area.
However, there has been no sign of withdrawal yet of Ethiopian forces from Badme, which, if done, would likely prove that Ethiopia is serious about finding peace.