Global Policy Forum

Negotiating Table New Battleground


By Abebe Andualem

Associated Press
June 1, 2000

After abruptly declaring the Horn of Africa war over, Ethiopia shifted from fighting to diplomacy with its neighbor Thursday - offering to return all newly captured land if Eritrea joins it in a cease-fire.

Eritreans studied their enemy's sudden peace overtures, suspicious after a 2-year border war of surprise invasions and attacks on both sides. "The war will never be finished because Ethiopia will never be satisfied. They want to reach Asmara," said Milke Kebede, an 18-year-old student in the streets of the Eritrean capital.

Both nations waited Thursday for word from 3-day-old peace talks in Algiers, where Ethiopia pressed its agenda on Eritrea in indirect talks through African, European and U.S. envoys.

Mediators are trying to broker a cease-fire and a lasting accord over the two neighbors' disputed 620-mile border. Success of the negotiations appears now to hinge on details of Ethiopia's withdrawal from Eritrea and security arrangements on the long-disputed border. "Don't ask me for blind optimism, but I have no reason to doubt that we'll succeed," Ahmed Ouyahia, the lead envoy in the Organization for African Unity-sponsored talks, told reporters in Algiers.

The international peace push was prompted by Ethiopia's steamrolling 19-day offensive into western and southern Eritrea last month. Saying it had retaken all land seized by its smaller neighbor at the outset of the war, Ethiopia on Thursday declared the offensive and the war itself over.

With the apparent advantage, Ethiopia said it now stood ready to negotiate directly with Eritrea - something it had always refused to do while Eritrea held disputed land.

Eritrea rejected that offer until Ethiopian forces leave the towns, villages and miles of undisputed Eritrean soil seized in the May offensive. "Before any (direct) discussion, there is a need to fulfill the obligations of stopping the war and withdrawing," Eritrean Foreign Minister Haile Weldensae told The Associated Press at the talks in Algiers.

Ethiopia says it will leave the land only with a cease-fire, and with international assurances of an as-yet unspecified nature for Ethiopia's security. "We are calling on the international community to give us guarantees that Eritrea will not repeat its madness of invading neighbors," Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin said during a break at the Algiers peace talks.

The two neighbors, among the world's 10 poorest countries, at times spent up to an estimated $1 million a day arming and manning for their border conflict. The war cost the lives of tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians on both sides.

Eritrea says the latest offensive alone displaced more than a half-million of its people. Refugees fled north and east to escape the fighting, some escaping by donkey and foot into neighboring Sudan and others washing up on the shores of Yemen after crossing the Red Sea in fishing boats.

The United Nations' refugee agency in Geneva said Thursday it was waiting for word of Ethiopia's withdrawal from Eritrea so it could deliver relief unhindered.

For some in Eritrea, a nation whose esteem is wrapped up in the legacy of the sandal-clad fighters who fought a 30-year guerrilla war for independence - peace on Ethiopia's terms seemed to come at a high price in pride and land.

"Eritrea does not want to lose the war," said Haile Brhane, a 51-year-old portrait painter in the Eritrean capital. "How can you live at peace if you lose your possessions?"

More Articles on Eritrea and Ethiopia


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.