Eritrea Under Fire: Synopsis of Eritrean History from Turkish Colonization to the present and the Genesis and Contributing Factors to the Current Conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia

By Merhawi Hagos Mesghina
University of Windsor
Department of Earth Sciences
Windsor Ontario Canada

When the hostilities between Eritrea and Ethiopia broke out back in early May 1998, they have left many observers dumbfounded. No one ever expected that two governments that had been allies in overthrowing the previous Ethiopian regime, and that seemed to cooperate on many internal and regional issues would suddenly allow a seemingly minor border dispute to deteriorate into spiraling military clashes that lead to the outbreak of war in such a short time. The disputes are over strips of land along the two countries' 1000-Kilometer common border. Eritrea simply called for bilateral demilitarization followed by demarcation of the disputed border area using colonial maps with the help of a third party without complicating the issue with conditions that would simply be immaterial when the dust settles. Ethiopia meanwhile insisted that Eritrea should withdraw from all disputed areas before any negotiations could begin or else it would use its military might if Eritrea doesn't abide. Many have said that there is more than meets the eye and raised economical, political, social and historical factors, among others, that are at the heart of the current state of affairs. Whatever the case might be, no remedy seems to be in sight as the two countries with more than half a million troops between them deployed along their common border have been engaged in pitched fighting, backed up with a dazzling array of modern weaponry since the first week of February 1999, following a lull in the fighting in June, 1998.

It has been very hard to reason why Ethiopia is opting for war when the problem could be solved through legal means. It has become clearer now more than ever that Ethiopia is pursuing the path of war because the Tigrayan hawks who want to have their dream of greater Tigray materialize at the expense of Eritrea's territorial integrity and sovereignty, know they will lose their case of territorial claims if they come to the negotiating table. Other more dangerous tendencies that have been expressed from many Ethiopian corners during the course of the conflict show that landlocked Ethiopian still covets access to the Red Sea and might try to capture the port of Assab in an effort to secure a sea outlet or try to overthrow the Eritrean government and install a puppet government that will take orders from Addis. Be the Ethiopian ambitions as they may, this author believes that the present conflict between the Eritrean and Ethiopian armed forces is a legacy of the two Horn of Africa countries' history. In order to understand this legacy, it would be more plausible to go through a brief history of the two countries and in so doing, many things will come into light to show that the present crisis is a continuation of their turbulent common history. This review will include, among others things, cultural, territorial, ideological/political, religious, military, linguistic, and ethnic factors.

All African states are the creation of European colonization and Eritrea is not an exception. Even according to ancient history, Eritrea and Ethiopia didn't have much in common as indicated by the different names that Eritrea was called by. At different times in the distant past, Eritrea was called "Medri Geez" which means the land of the free, "Medri Bahri" which means the land of sea, and "Mareb Mellash" which means the land "this side of" the river Mereb (Pateman, 1990). Eritrea has been colonized, partly or wholly, by many rulers starting around the middle of the 16th century. The Turkish invasion of Eritrea starting in 1517, began with the capture of Massawa, the major Eritrean port, which was part of the Red Sea world (Pateman, 1990).

The Ottoman Turks were displaced as rulers by Egypt in 1848. During this time, the Eritreans fought the invaders in different occassions. The Abyssinians (present day Ethiopians) also invaded and took occasional control of some parts of Eritrea and extracted tribute from or were engaged in pitiless looting of highland villages and other areas. The Eritreans put up stiff resistance against the Abyssinian kings and their laws and at times asked the Egyptian rulers to come to their aid (Pateman, 1990).

The next colonizers of Eritrea, the Italians, landed in the Eritrean port of Massawa in 1885. They managed to occupy the territories between the Red sea and the Mereb River after defeating the local resistance. Italy proclaimed Eritrea as its colony on January 1, 1890. The Italians obtained emperor Menelik's full recognition of Eritrea as part of the Italian empire in late 1896. Thus Eritrea became a nation with defined boundaries as a result of Italian administration over a collection of diverse ethnic, linguistic, regional, and religious sectors that made up what we now call the Eritrean society (Pateman, 1990). Eritrea has nine different ethno-linguistic groups and the populations is roughly composed of equal numbers of Moslems and Christians. Italian colonization of Eritrea ended in the middle of World War II when the British defeated Italy and Eritrea became a British colony in 1941. Italian colonization brought all Eritreans under the rule of a single power for the first time in Eritrea's history and brought about the distinctiveness of Eritreans from their Ethiopian neighbors (Erlich, 1983).

Under British rule, Eritreans angrily protested against the introduction of Ethiopia's campaign to annex Eritrea as part of a postwar settlement. Haile Selassie fostered the growth of the Unionist Party (UP), a party that advocated Eritrean Unity with Ethiopia using terror and coercion against many pro-independence parties, with the support of the Ethiopian Coptic Church whose clerical network encompassed the Eritrean highlands (Farer, 1976).

Between 1947 and 1951, the future of politically pluralistic Eritrea in relation to politically centralized Ethiopia was debated in the fora of international diplomacy. Without going into details, because of US strategic iterests and the fact that Ethiopia wanted economic help and an out let to the sea as a postwar settlement, the United Nations resolved to federate Eritrea with Ethiopia against the wishes of the people of Eritrea. The Eritrean government was to exercise full legislative, executive, and judicial powers in the field of domestic affairs while the Federal Government was to have jurisdiction over defense, foreign affairs, finance, foreign and interstate commerce and communications under the Ethiopian Crown. During the course of ten years following the federation, the Ethiopian emperor, Haile Selasse, stripped away the emblems of Eritrea's uniqueness and destroyed the substance of democracy and autonomy through bribery, intimidation, and most often brute force. Following a rigged parliamentary vote on November 14, 1962, the chief administrator of Eritrea announced its unconditional union with Ethiopia (Erlich, 1983).

The brutality of the Ethiopian authorities in dealing with those who opposed annexation and eradication of the symbols of Eritrean uniqueness created a bridge of understanding between two major sectors of the Eritrean independence movements, namely those in exile who were based in Arab capitals and Eritreans who resisted the Ethiopians in the field who, at the begging, were irregular warriors. This unity signaled the beginning of a legitimate and organized Eritrean national freedom movement and became to be known as the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) (Erlich, 1983).

From the outset, the ELF had a problem in that it lacked a clear political line and a disciplined organization. Complaints against the leadership by an increasing number of politically conscious Eritreans that demanded a more democratically run and ideological movement led to their persecution. Conflicts grew among the commanders and this led to the 1968 meeting of Adobha that aimed at restoring unity among the divided Eritrean ranks. However, the gap could not be closed and three groups split away from the ELF in 1969. One of the splinters, which came to be known as the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF), developed very rapidly. The remaining ELF led by the General Command, later renamed the Revolutionary Council (ELF-RC), declared war against the EPLF in March 1972 and opened a period of civil war among the factions that lasted until January 1975 when they finally agreed to a cease-fire after three years of bitter conflict (Legum & Firebrace, 1983).

When the Dergue, a tyrannical Ethiopian regime, came to power, there were expectations that it would seek a political settlement through major concessions to solve the Eritrean problem. There were signs that indicated towards this end when, in 1974, the Dergue appointed one Moslem and one Christian Eritreans to serve as deputy governor-generals and another Eritrean, Amanuel Andemmichael, as a governor general in Eritrea. Furthermore, General Aman Michael Andom, an Eritrean, who was the commander of the Ethiopian army division that had defeated the Somalis in 1964, became the first head of state after the fall of emperor Haile Selassie and seemed to have the credentials to reconcile Eritrean and Ethiopian nationalisms. This set the mood of high expectation of independence in Eritrea. There was an evident lull in hostilities among the different Eritrean factions and the sense of settlement drew them out of their rural bases toward the main towns and cities. Peace talks broke out among the liberation movements to put off their hostility and grab the opportunity to settle the problem with Ethiopia peacefully or take over Eritrea if the new Ethiopian authority collapsed at the center. However, on November 23, 1974, General Aman Andom and others that were with him were killed in his villa in Addis after putting up a stiff resistance against an army unit that came to arrest him using tanks (Farer, 1976).

The Eritreans freedom movements put their differences aside and responded by staging coordinated

assault in the very heart of the Eritrean capital Asmara. The Dergue, a tyrannical Marxist-Leninst regim led by Mengstu Hailemariam, began unequivocally waging war on the people of Eritrea. The Ethiopian air force dropped bombs on many towns and villages indiscriminately and efficacy became the only rule of war followed by either side (Farer, 1976). In 1977, the Eritrean freedom fighters launched a major offensive against Ethiopian government forces. Soon, all of Eritrea except the Capital Asmara, the ports of Assab and Massawa and two other towns, was under the control of the liberation forces which made them thinly spread throughout Eritrea. Thus, in 1978, in what is referred to the 'First Ethiopian Offensive' by the EPLF, with the influx of massive foreign assistance and combined attack from, Cuban, South Yemeni, Soviet and Ethiopian forces, the Eritrean fighters were forced to withdraw from most of the towns and their highland strongholds. The Ethiopian Second Offensive began and ended in November 1978 and brought about EPLF's strategic withdrawal from the town of Keren to the mountains of Sahil. With massive Soviet assistance, Ethiopia carried out its Third, Fourth, Fifth Offensives against Eritrean forces between December 1978 and January 1979 without success (Pateman, 1990).

The Eritrean town of Karora was jointly controlled by ELF and EPLF forces when in the summer of 1980, the ELF units were suddenly withdrawn to Barka and Ethiopian forces infiltrated the defense lines and took control of the town. Fearful of fighting battles with both the ELF and Ethiopians, who held abortive peace talks throughout 1980, the EPLF launched a preemptive strike against ELF positions during the months of October through December and successfully pushed out the ELF out of Barka into Sudan and remained the main Eritrean liberation force till it brought independence in 1991. Ethiopia also mounted its much publicized 6th offensive, the 'Red Star Campaign', against the EPLF in 1982 and eventually failed. The Dergue launched the 7th offensive, the 'Stealth or Silent Offensive', in 1983 and another offensive, the 'Bahri Negash Offensive', in 1985. Ethiopian offensives ended in 1988 when the EPLF broke Ethiopia's backbone in Eritrea at Afabet (Pateman, 1990).

Tigray had no organized movements until around the mid-1970s. With the Dergue coming to power

after deposing Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974, the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) was launched with the help of the EPLF and started armed resistance (Ottawy,1981). It should be noted that there was an outstanding differences in the objectives of the two fronts reflecting the historical background of their respective struggles. The EPLF was wagging war to remove an occupying power with the goal of full Eritrean independence while the TPLF saw its struggle in a sense of national liberation against the oppressive Ethiopian regime which denied Tigray of any measure of self-determination and was involved in its economic strangulation through utter neglect. However, TPLF's movement was geared towards the independence of Tigray if its political and social rights were not achieved and the oppression of the people of Tigray continued by the Ethiopian regime and, with respect to this, the ideology of the TPLF and Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) had much in common and both cooperated militarily and economically. They both had as their support base the most oppressed sectors of their respective societies which were the landless, the poor peasants and women, and took concrete measures in the interests of these groups (Legum & Firebrace, 1983). Eritrea and Tigray have some unique characteristics in that Eritrea was under Italian rule for about half a century and demanded independence while Tigray had a history of competition for the Ethiopian throne and had launched an armed struggle for self-determination. This coupled with the fact that the Eritrean highlanders and the Tigrayans share a common language, culture, and religion and also the a geographical position that places both regions next each other made it possible for the EPLF to provide the TPLF with material, organizational, as well as training help (Ottawy,1981).

Until 1985, there existed good relations between the TPLF and the EPLF. The two fronts carried out joint military training, military operations and pooled military intelligence. In the middle of 1985, relations between the TPLF and EPLF leadership soured due to disagreement on, among other things, the conduct of war and issues relating to the role of nationalities. As a result of this, TPLF observers were absent at the 1987 Congress of the EPLF while other Ethiopian groups opposing the Dergue attended. It was not until 1988, when the two liberation fronts put their differences aside and went on the offensive. Fierce fighting continued in 1989 and combined EPLF-TPLF military operations resumed; EPLF-TPLF units destroyed three divisions of the Ethiopian army at Enda Selessale, Tigray, and forced Ethiopia to withdraw its forces out of Tigray (Pateman, 1990). The TPLF, named the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) since 1990, pushed deep inside Ethiopia in 1990 and in 1991 it launched assaults through many parts of Ethiopia and, with help of Eritrean mechanized brigades, its forces took control of the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, driving Mengstu to exile( Kiley, June 9, 1998). By May 1991, Ethiopia was under the full control of the TPLF. In July 1991, the TPLF, under the leadership of Meles Zenawi, established a transitional government and indorsed Eritrea's de facto independence. Ever since the announcement of Eritrea's independence, its independence has been a controversial issue among some Ethiopian opponents of the EPRDF (Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), 1997, 4th quarter(q)).

In 1989, the Ethiopian government saw the death toll and number of defections of its senior commanders and agreed to hold peace talks with both the EPLF and TPLF but did not want the issue of independence to be on the negotiating table and was rejected by both sides. At the beginning of the 1980s, the EPLF was facing a 100,000-strong Ethiopian army backed by the former USSR. After a decisive victory at Afabet, the Ethiopian forces were pushed southwards until they were defeated in 1991 (Pool, 1997). The de facto independence of Eritrea in 1991 brought to an end the savagery of war in Eritrea and occurred almost simultaneously with the overthrow of the Mengstu regime in Addis Ababa by a combined EPLF-TPLF assaults at the heart of the Ethiopian Capital. Rather than declare immediate independence after the liberation of Asmara, the EPLF announced a referendum on independence after a two-year period (EIU, 97, 4th q). In April 1993, with the full support of the Transitional Government of Ethiopia, an internationally supervised referendum was carried out on Eritrean independence in which more than 99% of Eritreans voted for full Eritrean sovereignty and de jure independence was declared on May 24th 1993 (EIU, 1999, 1st q).

The present conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea started with a dispute over tracts of land along their 1000-Killometer common border. They have been trying to solve the problem by bilateral discussions and had assigned a border commission specifically charged to look after and solve the problem amicably. Before any agreement could be reached, however, unexpected turn of events took over the situation. The Eritrean Ministry of Foreign Affairs (EMFA) (June 19, 1998) stated that the Ethiopian Government claimed as well as physically occupied large swathes of Eritrean territory in southwestern, southern and southeastern parts of Eritrea. On May 6, 1998 the Ethiopian army launched an unexpected attack on Eritrean armed patrols in the Badme area claiming that they had transgressed on areas that belonged to Ethiopia. In the fighting that ensued, Eritrean troops took control of the land that had been occupied by Ethiopia. The areas which Ethiopia claimed to be its own, although colonial maps show them to be Eritrean, were seen included in Ethiopia's new official map of the Tigray region issued in 1997 as well as the map of Ethiopia embossed in the new currency notes of the country that came into circulation in November 1997. After the situation took an unexpected turn for the worst, the Ethiopian government ordered its Airlines to stop its services to Eritrea, terminated the use of Eritrean ports, and cut all telecommunication links from Ethiopia to Eritrea. To make matters worse, instead of trying to contain the conflicts from worsening and finding ways to solve the problem through negotiations, the Ethiopian government declared war on Eritrea on May 13, 1998 and threatened to use force unless Eritrea withdrew from the disputed area unilaterally and unconditionally and to that effect Ethiopia brought almost all of its armed forces to the border areas. On the other end of the spectrum, the Eritrean government, in an attempt to solve the problem between the two countries amicably, called for, among other things, the cessation of hostilities, demilitarization of all conflicts zones, and the resolution of the problem on the basis of established colonial borders through the involvement of a third party (EMFA, May 23, 1998)

Unfortunately, the incident of armed clashes led to a series of fights which, coupled with the hostile atmosphere that had already developed between the two countries, resulted in the present state of war between the two countries. This situation was more of Ethiopia's making than Eritrea's because Ethiopia declared war on Eritrea on May 13, 1998 instead of trying to contain the problem, carried out air-raids on June 5, 1998, on the Eritrean capital Asmara, imposed an air blockade and maritime access blockade to Eritrean ports through the threat of air-strikes, started the mass expulsion and indiscriminate arrests of thousands of Eritreans and Ethiopians of Eritrean extraction from Ethiopia (EMFA, June 19, 1998).

Since the eruption of the border conflict, in their hate campaign to incite animosity between the two peoples, Ethiopian government officials started throwing baseless claims that Eritrea was trying to strangle their country and that Eritrea is economically dependent on Ethiopea and cannot survive on its own. One cannot help but ask the question as to why a government like that of Ethiopia that asserts that it would not for any reason whatsoever compromise the interests of its people could enter into arrangements which clearly were not to its benefit? Regardless of the allegation that Ethiopia started making with the outbreak of hostilities, the economic cooperation that existed between the two countries was based on mutual interests and benefits to the two peoples (Mengstu, 1998).It is hard for Ethiopians to let go of Eritreea. Other than US strategic interests, the very reason why Eritrea was federated with Ethiopia was because land locked Ethiopia needed a sea outlet and the federal arrangement was imposed on Eritrea to the delight of Ethiopia. To make this marriage of convenience even easier for Ethiopia, Haile Silassie took an extra step and annex Eritrea thereby voideding the federal arrangement to have full control on Eritrea. Every Eritrean knows the "motto" of emperor Haile Selassie: Ethiopia didn't need Eritrea but its land. How evil ! The tyrannical regime of the Dergue kept the Ethiopian spirit on Eritrea alive by massacring its people until he was defeated by force of arms in which the Eritrean people fought for 30-years to get their independence. And now Eritrea's erstwhile allies have betrayed it in order to fulfill TPLF's dream of having Greater Tigray and, as it has become clear over the course of the conflict, to satisfy the Ethiopian dream of getting sea access even if it means they have to wage a protracted war.

Lately, when the Eritrean Government and the international community are urging for the cessation of hostilities and the resolution of the crisis by legal and peaceful means, a number of Ethiopian officials are calling for war. The Eritrean News Agency (ENA) (June 22, 1998) stated that on June 14, 1998, while addressing former members of the Dergue in Washington DC, Ethiopia's Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr. Tekeda Alemu, boasted that the Eritrean port of Assab would fall into Ethiopia's hands in the few days that followed. President Negasso Gidada of Ethiopia, in his New Year message, also said that Ethiopia would use force unless Eritrea unconditionally withdrew its troops from areas under conflict claiming that they were Ethiopia's forcibly occupied by Eritrea (EP, September 12, 1998). The EMFA (June 24, 1998) also communicated that the TPLF Government has stated that it has "huge resources" which it will employ to "teach the Eritreans a lesson" in a protracted war. ENA (July, 1998) reported further that the Ethiopian government has been conducting an intensive hate campaign which centers on the demonization of the Eritrean society and its institutions which are routinely portrayed as "racists and fascists" and was designed to foment irrational hatred among the Ethiopian people so that they may support the regime's war plans. The ENA also stated that the Governor of Tigray Administrative Region, Ghebru Asrat, retorted on Tigray Radio on May 28, 1998 that "the Eritreans feel superior and look down on the Tigrayans"; they have always claimed and boasted that "one germ exterminator can kill thousands of flies" and "one cat can kill fifty rats". Eritrea's response was that the TPLF government was pursuing a dangerous path and that the people and Government of Eritrea will try to find a peacefully negotiated settlement to the conflict without let-up but also made it clear that Eritrea has the capability to frustrate and deter any bluffs and attempts. These comments coming from senior Ethiopian officials demonstrate the sinister designs of the Ethiopian government to invade and occupy a sovereign state. The Economic Intelligence Unit (1997, 4th quarter(q)) has stated that whereas the Eritrean authorities maintain that their quarrel was not with the Ethiopian people as a whole, but only with the "minority" TPLF-led government, ironically the conflict has increased the government's support from other Ethiopian groups, which had previously been critical of the TPLF before the conflict started.

The most unfortunate victims of this conflict are those Eritreans who lived or happened to be in Ethiopia for a variety of reasons when the crisis started because they were detained, deported and their properties confiscated. To date, the total number of people expelled from Ethiopia in connection with the Eritrean-Ethiopian conflict stands over 55,000. With several thousand people still detained in Ethiopia, expulsions were continuing in March and the potential number of individuals whom the expulsions policy could touch is far greater. Over 1,500 Eritreans are still languishing in Ethiopian detention camps, where more than six people have died. According to human rights groups in Asmara, more ethnic Eritreans are being held in small police stations and camps in Tigray where there is virtually no monitoring of their situation by international observers (EIU,1997, 4th q). The sad fact of the matter remains to be that people have been and continue to be either detained or deported because of their Eritrean heritage which is illegal under any norm of international humanitarian law as it amounts to naked ethnic cleansing. The government of Eritrea has made its policy that Ethiopians wishing to go back to their country can do so after registering their wish to leave with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and continues to insist that it has no policy of deportation of Ethiopians. More than 20,000 Ethiopians have left Eritrea because of fear of being attacked or because they have lost their jobs, especially people who lived in the port of Assab, which is due to lack of employment as the business has dramatically slowed down(EIU, 1999, 1st q).

The rationale behind Ethiopia's expropriation of property, expulsions and widespread detentions of Eritreans and Ethiopians citizens of Eritrean origin remains to be simple ethnic cleansing. Internationally, the move has generated negative publicity for the government of Ethiopia, overshadowing the original cause of the conflict. However, this policy appears to have caused little concern among the majority of Ethiopians without links to Eritrea. On the contrary, former critics of the EPRDF have welcomed the move and saw it as long overdue (EIU, 1999, 1st q).

Many members of the international community have condemned Ethiopia's gross violations of basic humanitarian rights of ethnic Eritreans in Ethiopia. The US State Department (August 6, 1998) had issued a statement condemning the detention and expulsion of Eritreans from Ethiopia and called on the Ethiopian government to respect international human rights norms and standards. An independent report by Klein (June-August 1998), an Australian lawyer and solicitor of the South Australia Supreme Court, made findings based on extensive interviews with over sixty ethnic Eritrean deportees and concluded that the deportations were in violation of international human rights and recommended that Ethiopia had to stop its actions immediately and make suitable reparations to affected Eritreans. The United Nations had also denounced the Ethiopian government's harassment of Eritrean nationals working for the UN in Ethiopia. In a letter to the Ethiopian authorities, the UN stated that espionage charges raised against the Eritreans was unfounded ( September12, 1998). Mary Robinson (July 1, 1998), the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, also joined in condemning Ethiopia for offences committed against Eritreans living in Ethiopia. Amnesty International (January 29, 1999) is another humanitarian organization that has made its findings on the ground and issued a warning that forced mass deportations now threatens everyone of Eritrean origin in Ethiopia, causing untold suffering to thousands of Eritrean families. Other Human Rights Organizations worldwide had also joined in protest against comments made by the Ethiopian prime minister when he, in an interview on Ethiopian television on July 9, 1998, stated that any foreigner lived in Ethiopia because of the goodwill of the Ethiopian government and that if the Ethiopian government asked them to leave because it didn't like the color of their eyes they had to abide (Human Rights Watch, 1999).

On the international arena to find a negotiated peaceful settlement to the conflict, the Oraganization of African Unity (OAU) heads of state committee presented, at the end of the first week of December 1998, its proposals in Ouagadougou which were quickly backed by the UN Security Council, the European Union, and other international bodies. On the 17th and 18th of December 1998, the leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea responded to the proposals at the summit of the OAU Central Organ in which both sides left without an agreement and no timetable for further meetings of the OAU heads of state committee had been scheduled as of March 1999. Two of the core elements of the OAU peace plan request that Eritrea withdraws its troops unilaterally from Badme and environs and that Ethiopian civil administration be reinstated in the area. The government of Eritrea asked for clarification in precise legal language on what was meant by "Badme and environs" and of the definition of the colonial borders treaties that will be used for demarcation of the contested areas (EIU, 1999, 1st q).

The Eritrean foreign ministry issued a statement on January 12, 1999 announcing that it had obtained intelligence reports that Ethiopia was going to mount attacks between mid-January and mid-February and that its armed force were on high alert. A week earlier, on January the 5th, Ethiopian foreign minister, Seyoum Mesfin, called the peace effort to be "as good as dead". It was thought that Ethiopia might be have been bluffing as this was not the first time that an attack has been thought to be imminent because Ethiopia had continuously said that it would go to war if it thought that there was no chance for a peaceful settlement. However. the Eritrean government was right for in February 6, 1999 Ethiopia launched a massive offensive around the contested town of Badme and the battle quickly spread to a second front around the Eritrean border town of Tsorena (EIU, 1999,1st q). The OAU gave Eritrea the clarifications it requested but before it could respond, Ethiopia mounted its much anticipated offensive. On February 26, 1999 Ethiopia managed to break through some of Eritrea's defense lines in the Badme front at an absurdly huge human and material cost --- over 21,000 Ethiopian soldiers dead wonded and captured at the Badme front only in less than a week --- prompting Eritrea to execute a strategic withdrawal out of Badme and establish a suitable new front. On February 27, 1999 Eritrea announced that since it was no more in Badme, an area where Ethiopia insisted that Eritrea should withdraw from before any negotiations could begin, it accepted the OAU proposal. However, although the spirit and letter of the OAU proposal is now satisfied, Ethiopia is trying to impose new preconditions demanding that Eritrea should withdraw unilaterally not only from Badme and its environs as stated in the OAU proposal but all contested area for a peaceful negotiation to begin. Eritrea communicated to the UN and OAU that Ethiopia cannot include new preconditions and any move to accommodate new factors to the OAU proposal whose demands have been met in full after Eritrea's withdrawal from Badme will mean that Eritrea will considere it void.

In early May, 1998, a minor border skirmish broke out between Eritrea and Ethiopia in the Badme area which then escalated into a major military conflict that involved two more fronts. Since June11,1998 there has been no significant military action between the opposing government forces . The military stand-off has come no nearer to a settlement, despite intense diplomatic efforts to broker a peace agreement involving many players such as the US and the OAU and continued till February 6, 1999 when Ethiopia started its much anticipated attacks. The Eritrean government repeatedly stated that war was not an option but made it clear that it reserved the right to self-defense. Now, with Ethiopia's new preconditions for negotiations to begin and Eritrea's warning that adding new conditions to the OAU proposal will mean voiding it, the only solution available seems to be continuing the war until it becomes clear that war is not a solution to a border confilict and the sooner this war ends the better for the peoples of Eritrea and Ethiopia. For Eritrea, what is at stake is its very survival, dignity among sovereign nations, and territorial integrity that were earned through 30-years of armed struggle against all odds in a cruel world and the overwhelming majority of Eritreans are supporting their government as it is defending what is rightfully Eritrean sovereign torritory. Let us wait and see where, when, and how the Woyane madness is going to end! Time will tell!