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Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict simmering 16 years later

Border clashes between Ethiopian and Eritrean troops earlier this month were the latest in a cold conflict that has dragged on for 16 years and, according to analysts, shows little sign of ending. The countries fought a 1998 to 2000 border war that left an estimated 70,000 dead following Eritrean independence from Ethiopia in 1993.

Clashes on June 12 were the latest in a series of military confrontations focused on the border.“The intractable no-war-no-peace situation is a continuation of war in many ways without resorting to full scale war,” Regassa Abdissa, a lecturer in federalism and conflict at Addis Ababa University, told Anadolu Agency.

According to Abdissa, the chances of a permanent peace are slim while border disputes remain and the stalemate between the two sides has “significantly damaged” the conditions for peace.

“The Ethiopian government, which unflinchingly politically and militarily supported Eritrea’s independence from Ethiopia in 1991, took the 1998 Eritrean attack as a stab in the back,” he said, referring to the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front government that took power with Eritrean backing and subsequently supported independence for its neighbor.

However, in May 1998 President Isaias Afewerki of Eritrea ordered troops to annex Badme in the province of Tigray. Since the war ended, both countries have been in hostile deadlock with each accusing the other of attempting to destabilize the region.

Abebe Aynete, a senior researcher with the Ethiopian Foreign Relations and Strategic Studies Institute, described the relationship between those in power in both countries as one mired in suspicion and mistrust.

“The conflict added another animosity and mistrust,” he said. “Due to this, sitting at the negotiation table has become increasingly difficult.

“On both sides there is a culture of rigidity to compromise which means that compromise is equated with an admission of defeat.”

However, publicly the sides maintain a facade of optimism. “It is imperative to address the root causes through dialogue before demarcation,” Ethiopian Foreign Ministry spokesman Tewolde Mulugeta said. “We are willing to talk for a durable peace.”

Chane Kebede, chairman of the opposition Ethiopian Democratic Party, told Anadolu Agency that the ruling parties of both countries had created a perpetual state of tension and pointed to Ethiopia’s lack of access to the sea as a major point of contention.

“They made Ethiopia, a landlocked country,” he said. “The port of Assab [on the Red Sea] is Ethiopian through and through. Even if the Badme case is resolved, durable peace is not possible unless we retain Assab.”

To find a path to lasting peace, Regassa called on civic and religious groups to talk and motivate their governments to begin normalization.

 

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