As Eritrea-Ethiopia War Escalates, Yemen Tries to Avoid Being Entangled! [Archives:1998/23/Law & Diplomacy]

June 8 1998

The border dispute bewteen Eritrea and Ethiopia is now threatening to become an all-out war. Many regional and international mediators are trying to help control the situation. Yemen has been calling for restraint and patience.
Ali Said Abdullah, the Eritrean Minister of Trade and Industry and special envoy representing President Assaias Afewerke has just visited Sanaa. He delivered a message to President Ali Abdullah Saleh regarding the war that erupted between Ethiopia and Eritrea.
Ismail Al-Ghabiry of Yemen Times talked to Mr. Abdullah about this issue and others concerning relations between Yemen and Eritrea.
Q: Could you clarify the reasons for the dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea?
A: The border demarcation between Eritrea and Ethiopia was done in 1900, 1902 and 1906. This crisis has not erupted on May 6th as it was reported. It started long ago; actually more than a year. We were trying to tackle the issue through negotiations to observe the demarcated lines of the border peacefully between the 2 brotherly countries. Unfortunately, the Ethiopians were trying to violate and oppressively take parts of Eritrean land beginning from Bademe and going through Aliteina, Torama, Aliga, Zala Ambessa, to Amurug.
They claim that our border point is at 54 km from Asab, while, the real demarcated border point between Ethiopia and Eritrea is 71 km from Asab.
We thought that what was happening was done by local Ethiopian administrators, not the central government in Addis Ababa. But finally on May 14, we were surprised to discover that the Ethiopian parliamentary committee was saying that there are units of the Eritrean army inside Ethiopian territory.
Q: How do you intend to solve this problem?
A: I met President (Ali Abdullah) Saleh to make our position clear, and we are still looking for a peaceful solution. We appreciate the efforts of Yemen to solve this problem. (Actually Yemen simply called for restraint on both sides.) Yemen must have a role because any problem in the region will affect us all.
We have to solve that problem in a short time because we have our clear documentation and they have their documentation. We have inherited this border from the colonial system. This is very clear and is recognized by the United Nations and The African Unity Organization.
A third party, agreed upon by both countries, will have to mediate in the border issue. We support all initiatives by friendly countries, and will help by facilitating their role.
Q: So you do not really want to resort to force?
A: Our President Assaias said from the very beginning that the problem cannot be solved by force, never. This is our attitude and we are sticking with it. However, we are ready to defend our country.
The Ethiopians bombed Asmara. We never expected that they will go to that extent. But this shows us how desperate they are.
Q: What about the dispute with Yemen over the Hunaish Island?
A: As far as the problem with Yemen is concerned, I said it is a settled issue. It was a temporary lull in our strategic relations with Yemen. Our brotherly relations can never be affected by such a small incident. We have gone to international arbitration to settle the issue in a very modern and civilized manner.
Q: How about your problem with the Sudan?
A: This is a problem created by the regime in Khartoum. It is an internal matter of Sudan, but it has negatively affected us.
Q: How about your problem with Djibouti?
A: We have no problem with Djibouti. It was a simple little thing settled immediately.
In order to give a balanced view of the dispute between Eritrea and Ethiopia, Yemen Times offers a summary of a statement issued by the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry.
The international community is well aware of the crisis that has developed between Ethiopia and Eritrea since the Ertirean aggression against Ethiopia on 12th of May, 1998, as a result of which Eritrea still occupies the Ethiopian locality of Badme and part of Shiraro.
Ethiopia’s preference is for the crisis to be settled peacefully and legally in a civilized manner.
This is why Ethiopia has continued to co-operate to the maximum level possible with the mediators.
But even while the efforts of the facilitators have been underway, Eritrea has refused to desist from its provocative activities and from further attempts to create other facts on the ground. This explains as yet another attempt by Eritrea to take over additional Ethiopian localities in the past few days, specifically the localities of Aiga and Aliteina.
They did not succeed.
Ethiopia was not diverted from allowing the efforts of the facilitators to continue and thus has desisted from aggravating the situation. In fact, Ethiopia asked the international media to leave the vicinity so that the work of the facilitators may not face undue complications.
But the Eritrean government appears to have been set at continuing with the pattern demonstrated on 12th May, 1998, because they were convinced that there could not be eyewitness accounts of their aggression; they again decided to launch another attack this morning (the morning 3rd, June, in the vicinity of Zala Ambesa, Aiga and Aliteina, in an effort designed to create facts on the ground. This failed.
Because this latest aggression by Eritrea could not be confirmed by the international media, Eritrea thought it could get away with shifting the blame onto Ethiopia. The Eritirean military aggression should stop and it should allow the facilitators to make a difference for peace. This is Ethiopia’s preference as it has been since the first Eritrean aggression on 12th of May, 1998.
Eritrea’s attempt to create additional facts on the ground and, where this fails, to try to make Ethiopia appear as an aggressor is increasingly becoming a new strategy of the Eritrean authorities. This is the whole essence of the press release by the Eritrean Foreign Ministry.
It would be rather odd for Ethiopia which has refused to respond in kind to the Eritrean aggression of 12th of May and which continues to do the maximum possible to assist the facilitators, to now engage in activities that would harm this effort.
Eritrea should do likewise. Help the facilitators as Ethiopia does, so that their efforts – conducted under difficult circumstances – could succeed, and so that this crisis could be solved peacefully. This is the preference of Ethiopia. It should be that of Eritrea’s as well. Eritrea’s co-operation with the facilitators is the only way which would ensure the peaceful resolution of the crisis.