Global Policy Forum

Ethiopia-Eritrea: Has the Algiers Accord been Ditched?


By Anaclet Rwegayura

PanAfrican News Agency
June 1, 2004

Frustration continues to veil efforts of the international community in the bid to reconcile Eritrea and Ethiopia, simply because the two neighbours are showing no sign of conceding to a compromise.

A lot of attention, albeit at an increasingly heavy cost, has been paid to these countries and the Horn of Africa in general since Eritrea's breakaway from Ethiopia in 1993, while nearby Somalia drifted into anarchy from which it is yet to recover.

Through avenues of the United Nations and the African Union, the international community has tried every way possible to craft a diplomatic normalisation of relations between Addis Ababa and Asmara, but the outcome has not been promising. Rows and recriminations from the two capitals have punctuated the process that, as a result, now appears almost stalled.

Demarcation of the 1,000-kilometre Ethiopia-Eritrea border, scheduled for completion by November last year, is the trying issue. When the two-year war over the frontier ended in 2000 and a peace agreement was signed in Algiers, Algeria, before the end of the year, the world thought normalcy was dawning on the two countries. Instead, each side has turned its back on the other.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan had welcomed the pact as a "victory for the voice of reason, for the power of diplomacy..." Then what has since turned these two instruments blunt and reversed the victory?

The Ethiopia-Eritrea Boundary Commission early March 2004 courteously reported to the UN Security Council that, for reasons beyond its control, it had been unable to progress with demarcation activities. It blamed no party to the conflict, but the dissension on the Commission's decision is obvious. Ethiopia may have made a false step or overlooked certain aspects in striking the peace deal, under which the international community insists that the Border Commission's decision is final and binding.

Asmara may not be holding all the cards at the present stage, but it maintains that the decision, by which the Commission awarded part of the disputed territory to Eritrea, cannot be open for re- negotiation. But Ethiopia's objections are likely to keep the demarcation on hold for a long period of time.

Who will then end the deadlock and put the Ethiopia-Eritrea relations on the mend? For this unenviable task that person should first have his feet firm on the ground and be assured of support from both parties. Is it Lloyd Axworthy, the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Ethiopia and Eritrea?

Axworthy, an eloquent statesman and Canada's former foreign affairs minister, was given the job to explore with the two governments "how best the current impasse in the implementation of the Algiers Agreement could be overcome". The envoy has had consultation with Ethiopian authorities, but Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki insists that his side would meet with Axworthy if his mandate and terms of reference are fully clarified.

Meanwhile, peacekeepers in the temporary security zone, a swathe running the full length of the border, have for some time reported undue restrictions in carrying out their mandated operations. The border area remains militarily stable, but Eritrean authorities have barred vehicular movement of the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) on a vital road link from Asmara via Karen to Barentu.

Goings-on from the Eritrean side prompted the UN headquarters on 14 May 2004 to issue a statement in which the Secretary-General expressed dismay at the recent public attacks made by the Eritrean authorities against the UNMEE and its staff, as well as the restrictions imposed on its operations. The statement warned that the tone and scope of the unfortunate statements by the Eritrean authorities can seriously impact on the effectiveness of the Mission, and could also endanger the security of its personnel.

The Secretary-General expressed hope that Eritrea would engage UNMEE in a constructive manner, "allowing the Mission the indispensable freedom of movement and the necessary cooperation to carry out its mandate in accordance with the Algiers Agreements and the relevant Security Council resolutions."

When leaders of the African Union assemble in Addis Ababa from 6- 8 July 2004 for the third ordinary summit, the Ethiopia-Eritrea issue will be among conflict situations on their agenda. Given the tension arising from the current impasse, the AU Commission is well aware of the potential for the conflict to sear.

Therefore, the AU summit should encourage the two countries to find peaceful ways of overcoming hurdles hindering the implementation of the agreements they signed so that relations could be normalised. Afwerki is not expected to turn up in the Ethiopian capital for the summit, but the message must be delivered in Asmara.

More Information on the Security Council
More Information on Ethiopia and Eritrea


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