Global Policy Forum

Building Bridges in the Horn


By Alex Last

July 10, 2001

Above the churning brown waters of the Mereb river, dignitaries from Eritrea, Ethiopia and the UN gathered to officially open the Mereb bridge linking Eritrea and Ethiopia at the weekend.

The original bridge had been blown up during the war, but with a new Bailey bridge supplied by the Netherlands, constructed by an Indian company with the help of Slovak engineers, a symbol of co-operation after conflict was created.

Beautiful Setting

In a rather bizarre, if beautiful setting the guests mingled under the shade of a canopy in the middle of the carpeted bridge. The banks of the river were green from the rain.

The deputy head of the UN peacekeeping mission, Ian Martin, said the bridge had a very practical significance "because the rainy season is upon us, and for Unmee [UN Mission to Eritrea and Ethiopia] and others who use this route it would be a real problem if the bridge wasn't restored".

"But its more than that. Unmee's main mandate is to keep two armies apart, but our ultimate objective is to bring two people together, and I hope today symbolises that."


Ethiopia's senior liaison officer to the UN, Lieutenant Colonel Fikadu Haile, said he hoped that with the rebuilding of the bridge there would be a time when the two peoples could visit each other again. "I hope that both parties won't need to fight after this. This bridge will make us friendlier," Colonel Fikadu Haile said. In reality the main traffic on the bridge for the time being will be UN peacekeepers and aid agencies.

For civilians, the bridge will mean that the massive repatriation of nationals from one country to the other can continue throughout the rainy season. It may be some time though, before the bridge will be used as freely as it was before the war.


The Eritrean Commissioner for Co-ordination in the UN mission, Andobrahane Woldegerghis, downplayed the significance of the bridge opening, saying that there were still more important problems with the establishment of the buffer zone. "As people are returning to the Transitional Safety Zones, the villages, farms, grazing lands and particularly the areas occupied by the Ethiopian army, are littered with landmines," he said.

The commissioner continued to talk tough, but in the end he said there would be a time for co-operation. And the 30 or so journalists from Eritrea and Ethiopia here symbolised this co-operation, despite having reported the war from very different positions.

Some journalists interviewed each other, all took group photographs. The only regret being that unlike before the war, in the end people had to walk off the bridge in different directions, and return to their two sides.

More Information on Ethiopia and Eritrea


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