Global Policy Forum

U.N. Calls For Cease-Fire to Stop 'Disaster' in

February 10, 1999

As Ethiopian and Eritrean forces engaged in a fifth day of fighting Wednesday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously called for an end to the border conflict. The 15-member council passed a resolution expressing "grave concern" and demanding an immediate cease-fire. The resolution also called for an end to arms sales to Ethiopia and Eritrea.

"Both sides have purchased sophisticated fighter planes for bombing purposes. It is a disaster," Ambassador Mohamed Sahnoun, a special envoy of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, said after briefing the council. Sahnoun visited both countries in a failed attempt to prevent the flare-up of war. "That these two countries can come to fight each other is absolutely un-understandable, nonsensical and unacceptable," he said.

Diplomats said the council's request for all countries to voluntarily stop the sale of arms and ammunition to the two Horn of Africa nations was a prelude to a likely mandatory U.N. arms embargo if the fighting doesn't end soon. "The marker is laid," said one Western diplomat, on condition of anonymity.

Eritrea's Ambassador Haile Menkerios said it was "tragic and regrettable" that the council didn't condemn Ethiopia for resorting to force.

An Ethiopian spokeswoman said Wednesday that Eritrean troops were attacking Ethiopian positions on two fronts, trying to retake positions lost since fighting began Saturday. "They were trying to recapture what we had captured on those fronts," said Selome Taddesse. "We are still holding those positions."

Peaceful beginnings

Selome said Ethiopia would stop fighting only if Eritrea withdraws from contested territories set out in a peace plan drawn up by the Organization of African States. "If Eritrea accepts the OAS proposals, , then a cease-fire comes immediately," Selome said. "The call (for a cease-fire is better directed to the Eritreans. But if we are attacked on our own territory then there is nothing left for us. What do they expect us to do?"

Eritrea has asked for clarification on two points of the OAS plan, which has been accepted by Ethiopia. Eritrea and Ethiopia were on friendly terms after Eritreans overwhelmingly voted for independence in 1993. But as time went on, the two countries began arguing over exact locations of some borders.

"There was so much goodwill over the division of Ethiopia that no one really paid attention to maps or what constituted the border," said one Eritrean-based Western diplomat.

Fighting originally broke out last May over a barren 150-square-mile (390 sq. km.) tract of land called the Badme Triangle. The conflict subsided in June after about 1,000 people had been killed.

Accusations and denials

Each side accuses the other of restarting the border feud last week. And both sides have broken an airstrike moratorium agreed to last June, each accusing the other of using air power first.

Obtaining an accurate count of casualties was difficult, with Eritrea and Ethiopia making conflicting claims. Eritrea said it killed at least 1,500 Ethiopians while pushing back a major Ethiopian offensive, while Ethiopia denied the report and said it had captured two Eritrean strongholds and held off counter-attacks. Ethiopia claimed to have knocked out a radar station 10 miles inside Eritrea, a claim called a "pure fabrication" by Eritrea.

But despite the disagreements, it appeared certain that civilians were being caught in the crossfire. Reporters said Monday they saw Ethiopian planes bomb civilians near the disputed region, killing five people.

Ethiopian spokeswoman Selome said the deaths were Eritrea's fault. "That area has been a war zone for the last eight months," she said. "Why would you allow civilians to settle there?"

Ethiopia and Eritrea Index


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