Global Policy Forum

End Fighting, U.N. Council Tells Ethiopia and Eritrea


By Paul Lewis

The New York Times
February 28, 1999

United Nations -- The U.N. Security Council on Saturday demanded an immediate halt to the fighting between Ethiopia and Eritrea, after Ethiopian forces apparently smashed through the defenses along its disputed 600-mile border with Eritrea and appeared to be pushing deeper into the country in the direction of the Red Sea.

At an emergency meeting here, the council called on both sides to refrain from further hostilities and resolve their border dispute on the basis of the peace plan drawn up by the Organization for African Unity. It also welcomed Eritrea's decision Saturday to accept the plan, which calls for the withdrawal of Eritrean forces from Badme and a redefinition of the disputed border between the two countries by neutral experts.

In Los Angeles, President Clinton also called on both sides to make peace on the basis of the African organization's plan and said the United States would continue to work with them "to achieve a peaceful resolution of this conflict."

Diplomats and senior U.N. officials said the Eritrean army appeared to have suffered a serious reverse. They expressed concern that Ethiopia -- which has been landlocked since it ceded its Red Sea ports of Massawa and Assab to Eritrea in 1993, when it granted it independence -- might be planning to seize one of them back. Under this agreement Ethiopia was to have use of those ports, but that has become impossible with the deterioration in relations between the two countries. "The Ethiopians are an ancient and proud nation that is used to having access to the sea," a senior U.N. official said, pointing out that most of Ethiopia's trade must now pass through the small Red Sea nation of Djibouti.

Eritrea's immediate reaction to its military setback, officials here said, was to tell the U.N. secretary-general, Kofi Annan, on Saturday that it now accepted the peace plan, apparently because it no longer controls Badme. In a letter to Annan calling for a Security Council meeting, Eritrea's U.N. representative, Haile Menkerios, also said Ethiopian forces were now occupying "sovereign Eritrean territory." He called on the council to condemn "Ethiopia's territorial ambitions and aggression" and send fact-finding observers to the area.

U.N. officials said Ethiopian forces appeared to have advanced about six miles beyond Badme, a barren, rock-strewn area of little economic value. With the Eritrean Army apparently in poor shape, the Ethiopians might now push deeper into the country, they said, or open another front, perhaps in the Zala Ambassa region, and try to outflank the remnants of the Eritrean Army. A senior administration official in Washington said the fighting had been heavy in the last four days, with substantial casualties and a total of about 200,000 soldiers deployed by the two sides. A delegation of officials from the Organization of African Unity had been due to arrive Saturday in Asmara, the Eritrean capital, to discuss the peace plan but never left the organization's headquarters in Addis Ababa, apparently because of the fighting.

After an eight-month lull, the border war between Ethiopia and Eritrea flared up again this month when Ethiopia opened an offensive in the Badme area. Sporadic fighting has also been reported around Tsorona, south of Asmara, and Burre, southwest of Assab. First reports of the fighting from the capitals of Addis Ababa and Asmara were confused, with both sides claiming to have inflicted huge casualties on the enemy.

Ethiopia and Eritrea Index


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