Global Policy Forum

Ethiopia and Eritrea Sign Formal Peace Accord

December 12, 2000

Ethiopia and Eritrea formally ended their two-year border war Tuesday with the signing of an internationally brokered peace agreement. The accord, signed in the Algerian capital by Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and Eritrean President Isayas Afewerki, was the fruit of months of diplomatic pressure and mediation by the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the United Nations and the United States.

The war between the two Horn of Africa nations, often plagued by famine and drought and among the world's poorest countries, erupted in May 1998 when Eritrea invaded what Ethiopia considered its territory. Tens of thousands of soldiers died in brutal, sporadic fighting and tens of thousands were taken prisoner or displaced from their homes before a cease-fire took hold in June.

The OAU-drafted peace agreement set up commissions to mark the 600-mile border, swap prisoners, return displaced people and hear claims for compensation for war damage. About 4,200 U.N. peacekeepers are due to be deployed inside a buffer zone before February to help consolidate peace.

Eritrea, a country of 3 million people on the Red Sea coast, was a province of Ethiopia, its much larger landlocked neighbor to the south with a population of 60 million people, before winning its independence by referendum in 1993, with Ethiopian support.


The two leaders shook hands at the signing ceremony and Ethiopia's Zenawi, in a speech afterward, pledged his country's commitment ``to the full and scrupulous implementation of the agreement.'' ``We believe the signing of the peace agreement will lead us to our preeminent task, which is the struggle against poverty,'' he said.

The Eritrean president expressed his country's ``commitment and desire to forget the past and look for a future of peace and mutual respect.'' Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika mediated between the two sides and hosted the signing of the peace pact. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright were among the dignitaries present.

Albright said Washington was committed to doing its part ''from supporting land mine clearance to providing development assistance.'' ``We will reinvigorate our relations with both nations as a matter of both humanitarian obligation and national trust,'' she said.

U.S. special envoy Anthony Lake, who also helped mediate the accord, said he was ``convinced the peace agreement would stick.'' ``There is one very significant thing about this agreement in an African context, that is ... that the underlying cause of conflicts in Africa is the kind of winner-takes-all political culture,'' he told reporters. He stressed that the Ethiopian-Eritrean accord would ''become a precedent for elsewhere in Africa in which people learn to accept less than complete victory.''

In Paris, the European Union said it hoped the peace accord would be swiftly implemented. ``This event may represent a fundamental turning point toward peace and development in the region and become an example for the whole of Africa,'' the EU said in a statement.


The six-article agreement commits both sides to a permanent cessation of military activities along their border. ``Each party shall refrain from the threat or use of force against the other,'' the agreement says. The text calls for the establishment of a neutral, five-member commission based in Geneva with a mandate to demarcate the border based on colonial treaties.

The commission should aim to complete its work within three years and ``each party shall respect the border so determined, as well as territorial integrity and sovereignty of the other party,'' the text says. Another commission will be established to address the impact of the conflict on the civilian population, including the thousands deported from each country.

Ethiopia called Tuesday for any of its citizens, as well as international organizations, who have suffered as a result of the war to register their claims with the government. The government said in a statement that Ethiopians who have suffered loss, damage or destruction of property or whose human rights have been violated as a result of the ``Eritrean war of aggression'' should present their claims to The National Committee for Collecting Compensation Claims.

More Information on Ethiopia and Eritrea


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