When the foot is in a neighbor's shoe it pinches
Ghidewon Abay Asmerom
December 13, 1999

Early this year, Ethiopia was busy mocking Eritrea for asking the OAU 12 questions for clarifications regarding the Framework Agreement-a document which I have to admit was written to favor Ethiopia. The Ethiopian leaders ridiculed Eritrea's request for clarifications as "mid-semester exam." They said Eritrea's request for clarifications showed "contempt for the core principles of the OAU."

The government that now argues "no arms twisting can bring about peace" was, less than a year ago, calling on countries and organizations to pressure Eritrea into accepting the OAU Framework Agreement. This, even before Eritrea had received a response from the OAU.

After receiving the clarifications it requested from the OAU, Eritrea accepted the Framework Agreement. It has since also accepted the documents that followed -the Modalities and Technical Arrangements---documents which, in my view, are also slanted to favor Ethiopia. Regardless, Eritrea has accepted the OAU peace package in its entiterty.

Ethiopia---the country that boasted it would " not pick and choose" --has finally rejected the Technical Arrangements. Ethiopia's formal rejection comes months after it had received a quick response from the OAU to its fifty-something questions submitted in August. Ethiopia has since submitted another 14 page set of questions to the OAU.

Compared to how the OAU clarified Ethiopia's questions in August, the OAU's response to Eritrea's questions were in fact a set of sarcastic remarks duped as clarifications. Compare OAU's answers to Eritrea with how the OAU answered Ethiopia's question.

In any case that is beside the point. Let's move on.

In addition to rejecting the Peace plan tabled by the OAU, the Ethiopian Prime Minister has called on another mobilization for war. Mr. Meles' call for war on Dec. 6 is identical to that he delivered on Ethiopian TV June 4, 1998. On June 5, 1998 his Air Force bombed Asmara, Eritrea's capital.

Apparently, Prime Minister Meles and his minority government are unhappy with the "invisible" pressure the world is putting on them for prevaricating on the Technical Arrangements. The kernel of the Prime Minister's speech is. "Abandon the notion, that you can force Ethiopia into accepting the document. We are not going to accept it. Peace can not be realized through arms twisting, so don't try to twist our arms."

I agree whole-heartedly; as a matter of principle, no genuine and lasting peace can be realized by arms twisting. That is why I didn't support the OAU Framework for Agreement that was forced on Eritrea by the US, the UN Security Council and others. But did the Tigrean leaders of Ethiopia believe this principle of "no pressure could bring meaningful peace" throughout the Eritrea-Ethiopia conflict? Or are they new converts to this principle because it suits their current status?

To be able to answer this question and to get some insight into the thinking of the Ethiopian leaders, I would like us to re-visit a couple of speeches/statements they issued when Eritrea asked the OAU for clarification on the Framework for Agreement. My intention is to examine how Ethiopia's new found principle of "no pressure produces peace" measures up when applied to their past principle of the need for a "meaningful and effective pressure."

The Foreign Minister's speech sited below is from a briefing he gave to the Members of the Diplomatic Community in Addis Ababa on January. 5, 1999. This speech was given three weeks before the OAU gave "clarification" to Eritrea's questions on the Framework Agreement for Peace. The Prime Minister's speech was a briefing to the African Diplomatic Community. The date was January 27, 1999.

Here is what Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin had to say in January this year on the need for the OAU Member States to exert pressure:

"So what do we expect from the OAU? Not a whole lot, because the OAU has done what is expected of it. What we expect from member states of the OAU, however, is quite different. We expect from member states of the OAU not only to be loyal to the decisions of the OAU--that, (if it were to be posed as a request), would be understood as an insult. Because it is to be assumed, without question, that every member nation of the OAU is loyal to the decisions of the OAU. And so we are not going to ask you to be loyal to the decisions of your own organization, because that would be an insult. But we are going to ask you to exert all the pressure that you can possibly exert, directly and indirectly, to see to it that the OAU decision is implemented. "
On Call for International Pressure:
"We therefore call on the international community, in fulfillment of its obligation to international law and for the respect of the provisions of the UN Charter, and by way of delivering on promises made, to put whatever meaningful and effective pressure available to them on Eritrea so that the OAU could succeed in its effort, and so that diplomacy may have a chance."

On Call for Economic Sanctions:

"The talk about the Eritrean authorities being immune to pressure is unconvincing. What they need is to be talked to in the language they understand. They might listen, and they will listen, if there are clear indications that, among other things, their pockets would also be affected. The start for all this is an admission that treating Eritrea with kid gloves and shying away from calling a spade a spade have not worked and have only encouraged the Eritrean authorities to persist in their defiance, intransigence and rudeness, to both individuals and institutions and to those who have anything to do with the effort for peace in this crisis."
On the Future of the Peace Plan:
"Accordingly, it is now only what those who are in a position to bring effective and meaningful pressure to bear on Eritrea, are prepared to do, which would decide whether there is hope for a peaceful resolution of the crisis. Otherwise, the peace effort can be considered, as good as dead."
On the Speedy Implementation of the OAU's Framework for Agreement:
"Excellencies, as far as OAU's attempt at brokering peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea is concerned, the OAU has placed its proposal on the table and has called for its speedy implementation. Ethiopia has accepted the proposal. Eritrea continues to talk about amendments"

On the Promise from the International Bodies:

"We and the OAU were promised that, once the OAU took a position and put a peace proposal on the table, then all would stand behind the OAU with resolve, and whoever was the aggressor would be told with no ambiguity that aggression cannot, and will not pay. That this has not been done long after the OAU has spoken in no ambiguous terms about which the aggressor is and after it had presented its peace proposal, is indeed a source of disappointment and of surprise. In fact, that explains partly why Eritrea has defied all peace efforts, and is now defying the Organization of African Unity."
--Seyoum Mesfin, Jan. 5, 1999

And here is what Prime Minister Meles Zenawi had to say almost a year ago on questions for clarification:

"The Eritreans now resurrected the questions they had posed and had apparently forgotten during the Ouagadougou Summit. They said we want answers to our thirty-something questions. I understand that the OAU High Level Delegation has apparently completed answering these questions and delivered the answers to the Eritrean government. I would not be surprised if now we have not only a mid-semester exam, but a final exam, perhaps comprising of not thirty questions, but sixty-one questions. That is where we stand now. The OAU proposal has been dealt with contempt by the Eritrean government and there is no surprise because they have nothing but contempt for the core principles of the OAU. "

On knit-picking of the OAU's Peace Proposal:

"As far as I am concerned, the OAU has played its role as best as can be expected from it. Obviously, if we were to engage in knit picking, there are many issues in the proposal that we firmly object to. But that is beside the point. The core principles are there, and the core principles are acceptable. And so we take it as a whole. We do not pick and choose." --Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, Jan. 27, 1999

A day before the Prime Minister's speech we saw above, to be exact Jan. 26, 1999, a statement "Ethiopia Urges International Community to Pressure Eritrea" was issued by the Ethiopian Government's Spokesperson's Office.

"Ethiopia is encouraged that the international community is at last speaking out in support of the OAU High Level Delegation's Proposals for a Framework Agreement as a peaceful means to end the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea, as recently expressed by the United Nations Security Council, the EU, Italy and the United States. But if the conflict is to be resolved peacefully, the international community must move beyond safe platitudes that simply urge both parties to fully cooperate with the OAU and instead highlight the fact that Ethiopia has already formally accepted the proposals and pressure Eritrea to do the same. Any commitment to achieving peace must be matched with a commitment to acknowledging the barriers to it."

All these talks were then. As we saw above the Ethiopian leaders are new converts to the " no pressure" principle.

Here is what Walta Information Center (the TPLF's information center) reported on Meles's interview with Ethiopian TV on Dec. 6, 1999:

"Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said today that the unjustified pressure being imposed by the International Community on Ethiopia believing that peace could be realized through arms twisting of the victim of aggression, cannot help resolve the Ethio-Eritrean crisis. Prime Minister Meles once again reiterated that, all those who claim to cherish peace, must abandon the notion, that they can force Ethiopia into accepting the document and instead rectify the mistakes and bring their pressure to bear on the invader, through a detailed understanding of the short comings of the technical arrangement". (WIC, Dec. 6, 1999).

Here is how PANA has quoted Meles:

"Ethiopia will not kneel down to any pressure imposed on the country to accept the technical arrangements, unless the document is prepared to guarantee its sovereignty." (PANA, Dec. 7, 199)

Excuse us? What was all that talk "twist Eritrea's arms to bring peace" about then? Weren't they saying "Talk to Eritreans in the language they understand? They might listen, and they will listen, if there are clear indications that, among other things, their pockets would also be affected"? How come they are complaining now saying "denying us assistance from the World Bank and other donors, cannot help bring about peace"? Could it be their pockets are being affected? Or was all that talk last year like what the Tigrigna proverb says "try to grind sand with someone else's tooth" (zeysnKa HuSa qorTmelu)?

From all their statement it is clear what the Ethiopian regime wants. It is to be the judge and the jury on the Eritrea-Ethiopia conflict. Who is the aggressor? Who invaded whose territory? Who was to blame for the start of the war? None of these questions have been answered yet. The OAU and the world community have said "sign a ceasefire and we will investigate". What is wrong with this?

What Meles' interview made clear is very interesting. The minority government in Ethiopia is telling the world that it would sign a peace accord if and only when it knows for sure the disputed territories are declared Ethiopian. They are saying that they will say yes to the peace plan only when they know they will not be labeled as aggressors. I am certain this will never happen. If the peace they want is to come in their own terms only, then Eritrea should say "forget peace." A peace that is short of a just peace is unacceptable to Eritrea. The world and the Ethiopian leaders should as well remember that Eritrea's motto has always been "Never Kneel Down" and it will remain so.

In any case, the sort of memory our neighbors to the south have is amazing. As we have seen a year ago both the Prime Minister and his Foreign Minister were busy summoning the diplomatic community in Addis Ababa and telling them to apply pressure on Eritrea. But when the table is turned around they are aching from a world pressure that might be in the coming.

Mind you it has been four months since the OAU clarified Ethiopia's first set of questions. As if they were not mocking Eritrea for asking 12 questions now they are not ashamed to say they have submitted another fourteen-page set of questions. Yes 14-page set of questions! These are in addition to their fifty-something questions they submitted by mid August for which they had received a thirteen-page clarification form the OAU by the end of August.

A year ago they were telling the world we shouldn't knit-pick on the OAU peace plan. Now they are telling the world "a response was being awaited from the current OAU Chairman to a 14-page detailed account submitted by Ethiopia on the shortcomings of the Technical Arrangements following in-depth scrutiny by relevant experts." If it were not knit picking, what would a 14-page question on a six-page long Technical Arrangement consist of? If it is not full of knit picking then may be they have attached their Manifesto of the Republic of Tigray with it.

For those who don't know, the Manifesto of the Republic of Tigray is a document authored by Meles and Seyoum in the mid seventies. It was this document that was used as a basis to annex land from the Gondar and Wollo provinces of Ethiopia to Tigray. It was also this manifesto that hinted that the border of the Republic of Tigray is the Red Sea. Meaning the Republic of Tigray includes land from Eritrea. At the time it was dismissed as mad-men's document. I am afraid it might be the document that is being submitted to the OAU as an attachment and the one that is being consulted before the TPLF takes any actions on the peace plan..

What about after the OAU gives pages of clarifications to their 14-page questions (note that the Technical Arrangements can not be amended) what will come next, a 44-page set of questions?

As we all know, back in January the minority government in Addis Ababa wasted no time before it started judging and pointing fingers at Eritrea's caution on the OAU's sloppy Framework for Agreement. As was pointed out, Foreign Minister Seyoum's speech was before the OAU gave clarification and Meles' before the clarification letter was opened in Eritrea.

A year ago the Ethiopian authorities were trying to present the 11-point OAU peace plan as if it were a complete document that didn't need any clarification. Of course we know it to be otherwise. The "Badme and environs" clause and how long it took the OAU to clarify it (eight months: December 1998 to July 1999) was a case in point. In fact it took a meeting of 53-heads of states to give it an off-the-wall definition.

The OAU Framework for Agreement, without a doubt, was a vague and shoddy, to say the least. But since Eritrea's demand for clarification served the Ethiopian leaders' evil purpose, the world was deafened by their daily pronouncements of "we accepted the OAU Framework for peace, but Eritrea rejected it." The diplomatic offensive by the Ethiopian regime continued in all fronts until and during the OAU summit in Algiers. They painted the Framework as a document written by the hand of God and one that needed no clarification. The story after Algiers is different. Before Algiers Eritrea was the one that was accused of being " rude and disrespectful to the OAU and the mediators." Now it is Ethiopia that is getting a diploma in rudeness. Indeed what a difference a year makes!

In short Eritrea's acceptance of the OAU Technical Arrangements has turned the table around. Ethiopia is now back-pedaling. Eritrea's early announcement that the Ethiopian leaders are not interested in genuine peace has again been proved accurate. PEACE is not in the best interest of the minority government in Ethiopia. It has never been. They know very well that they cannot survive even a day after a peace deal is signed. Of course they cannot survive another Tsorona as well. It now looks like they have opted for another round of war and there is no doubt their Waterloo is around the corner.

There is only one reason why the Tigrean minority government in Ethiopia is asking questions after questions and in the process putting a "deal-breaker" after a "deal-breaker" : to buy time. It wants to buy time until it prepares for another round of war. It is trying to buy time so that the mercenaries it hired from North Korea and the former Eastern Block countries can finish drawing its battle plans.

In any case, time is running out for the Ethiopian regime. Like its predecessors (Haileselassie and Mengistu) it will be history in a matter of months. If the current leaders think that they will not run out of "fenjiregatchs" (human-mine-sweepers) they should think twice. The oppressed masses, those of Oromia and other places, are already saying no to being "fenjiregatchs."

The carnage at Badma and Egrimakel should have been enough, and the tens of thousands of innocent southern Ethiopians who were made to be cannon fodder should have been the last to die. Unfortunately Ethiopia's leaders are willing to send millions more to their death. This ought to stop and will stop.

Eritrea has carried out all the OAU and the international community asked of her in order to find a peaceful solution to the border conflict. All eyes are now on Ethiopia. When the foot is in a neighbor's shoe it pinches.