Tuesday, August 21, 2018
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Ethiopia/Eritrea ties critical for Horn of Africa

Ethiopia Eritrea ties Horn of AfricaEthiopia’s prime minister said ending war and expanding economic ties with neighbouring Eritrea is critical for stability and development in the impoverished Horn of Africa region.

Abiy Ahmed’s remarks followed an announcement by his ruling coalition that Ethiopia would fully implement a peace deal signed in 2000 to end a two-year war that devolved into a stalemate resulting in huge military build-up by both countries.

The pledge would entail ceding a disputed town to Eritrea. There was no sign on Wednesday Ethiopia started withdrawing its troops from Badme.

It is one of many policy shifts announced since the 41-year-old took office in early April, moves that could reshape Ethiopia’s relations with its neighbours and have dramatic impacts inside the country of 100 million people.

Whether the new measures including liberalisation of the state-controlled economy, end up addressing critical challenges including high youth unemployment and rising government debt remain to be seen.

“All we have achieved from the situation of the last 20 years is tension,” Abiy said.

“Neither Ethiopia nor Eritrea benefit from a stalemate. We need to expend our efforts towards peace and reconciliation and extricate ourselves from petty conflicts and divisions and focus on eliminating poverty.”

Ethiopia’s move is a “drastic departure” from its longstanding – and failed – policy, said Ahmed Soliman, Ethiopia analyst at Chatham House, a London-based think-tank.

“To see some movement is positive. This is the most important latent conflict in the Horn and its resolution is important for peace and security in the region.”

NO COMMENT FROM ERITREA

Eritrea was part of Ethiopia and waged a 30-year struggle for independence. The war on their shared border between 1998 and 2000 killed tens of thousands of people, caused significant displacement and the splintering of families.

Eritrea’s government has not yet responded publicly to Addis Ababa’s olive branch. The nations cut ties during the war.

Asmara’s Information Minister told Reuters he had not seen the Ethiopian government statement so could not comment. He did not respond to phone calls later.

Eritrea wants Ethiopia to pull its troops out of the disputed territory before normalising ties, citing a decision by a boundary commission at The Hague which awarded the village Badme to Eritrea in 2002.

Asmara has long felt betrayed by world powers, who they say failed to force Ethiopia to abide by the commission ruling.

Ethiopia says the row over border demarcation can only be resolved through a negotiated settlement.

On Tuesday, an Ethiopian foreign ministry official told Reuters there were “at least 61 attempts” to mediate between the two nations, but Asmara rejected all requests.

Russia, the European Union and Qatar were among those who offered to mediate in the last two decades, he said.

Abiy said Ethiopia needed to resolve what he seemed to view as a costly and pointless dispute.

“Putting an end to this situation and finding peace is necessary beyond anything else not just for Ethiopia but for the wider Horn of Africa,” he said in Addis Ababa.

“Every Ethiopian should realise it is expected of us to be a responsible government ensuring stability in our region, one that takes the initiative to connect brotherly peoples of both countries and expands transport and economic ties between Asmara and Addis Ababa.”

Diplomats say punitive measures against Eritrea may prevent an immediate conclusion to the dispute.

The UN Security Council imposed an arms embargo on Eritrea in 2009 on charges Asmara provided political, financial and logistical support to militant groups in Somalia. Eritrea dismissed the claims saying they are concocted by Addis Ababa in a bid to isolate the country and divert attention from Ethiopia’s reluctance to hand over the disputed areas.

“The Eritrean government always proclaimed its innocence and will demand the sanctions are promptly lifted. This could be a sticking point for now,” said a Western diplomat in Ethiopia.