Weldensae: “We prefer negotiated solutions to our differences.” [Archives:1998/42/Law & Diplomacy]

October 19 1998

Haile Weldensae, Eritrea’s Foreign Minister, is one of the leaders in the fight for independence. Many members of his family have died for the nation.
Last week, he led an Eritrean delegation to participate in Yemen’s celebrations on the anniversary of the 14th of October Revolution.
Yemen Times talked to him.
Q: The Tribunal issued its verdict on the dispute over Hunaish Islands on October 9th. Is this problem now over?
A: Yes. Completely. We have issued a formal statement accepting the verdict.
Q: The verdict allows 90-days for compliance.
A: There is no need to discuss this matter. As I said this is a finished business.
Q: But there are still Eritrean troops on the islands. Have you started withdrawal measures?
A: We have already started steps to implement the verdict. This is a technical issue.
Q: What is the purpose of your present visit?
A: Relations between Eritrea and Yemen go back deep in history. The dispute over the islands was a temporary snag. Now we are interested in developing a mature relationship that will help our two countries, and that will also contribute to regional peace and stability.
Q: Are you talking about economic cooperation?
A: Yes, that too. I have had frank talks about the regional disputes that haunt our peace, and how we can tackle them.
Q: Do you see a role for Yemen in the Eritrean-Ethiopian border dispute?
A: Let me say that my country has suffered a lot from a long war of independence. We don’t want another war. We want to resolve the border dispute with Ethiopia using the example of the Yemeni-Eritrean dispute.
And in the case of Ethiopia, the problem is much simpler. There are treaties signed between Italy and the Ethiopian Monarchy in 1902, 1904, etc. It is simply a case of demarcating the borderline.
Q: Do you have border problems with Djibouti?
A: No.
Q: How about problems with Sudan?
A: The problems with Sudan are the result of policies of the present regime in Khartoum.
Q: But your government refuses to take in Eritreans who are still in the Sudan?
A: That is not true. We have not refused. But we are a poor country. What will happen if a new wave of people move in without arrangements? We have asked UNHCR to help with such arrangements.
Q: How many Eritrean refugees are in Sudan?
A: Nobody knows the exact number. But I think there are about 250,000 persons.
Q: There are reports that Israel has an established interest on one of the islands based on agreement with your government. What do you say?
A: We have normal relations with Israel. The story about military facilities is false.
Q: How are your relations with other neighbors?
A: We have excellent relations with Libya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other neighbors.
Q: What is next in Yemeni-Eritrean relations?
A: Both President Asaias Afewerke and President Ali Abdullah Saleh have invitations to exchange visits. We look forward to better ties.