Appeasing Ethiopia Can Only Undermine Peace
      By Shaebia Staff
      Mar 4, 2003, 7:38pm

It has now become starkly clear that Ethiopia has refused to accept the April 2002 decision by an international Boundary Commission delimiting its borders with Eritrea. That decision unfairly gave Ethiopia land that is indisputably Eritrean. But that has only whetted its appetite. Among additional Eritrean territories, the irresponsible government in Addis Ababa is demanding that it be given Badme, which was the pretext for launching its war of aggression against Eritrea in May 1998.

Over the past year it has presented spurious "legal, factual and humanitarian" reasons to back its claims. These have been seen for what they are, by the Boundary Commission and the international community, and rejected.

Undeterred, Ethiopia continues to insist that the border decision, which it had committed itself to accept as "final and binding", be changed. This is a flagrant violation of the December 2000 Algiers Agreement, which ended the Ethiopian war of aggression against Eritrea. Article 14 of the Agreement gives the UN Security Council the authority to take measures against the offending party under Article 7 of the UN Charter.

Ethiopia has not only rejected in practice the boundary decision, it is willfully and systematically sabotaging its implementation. Its obstructionist actions have put back the demarcation process close to a year, resulting in losses of several hundred million dollars to the international community. More importantly, it has prevented the return to their homes of over 60,000 displaced Eritreans, who continue to suffer in camps.

Moreover, Ethiopia has insolently refused to implement the decision of the Boundary Commission ordering it to remove Ethiopians it had settled in Eritrean territory after the border decision. It has fired at UN peacekeepers and it is infiltrating mercenaries to plant mines in the Temporary Security Zone, endangering the lives of Eritrean citizens and UN peacekeepers alike, in order to scuttle the demarcation process.

What has emboldened the reckless regime in Addis Ababa to reject the border decision, violate the Algiers Agreement, ignore the orders of the Boundary Commission, and impede demarcation, is the reticence of the international community to tell Ethiopia, in language that it can easily understand, that enough is enough. True verbal communications, couched in diplomatic language, have been communicated to Ethiopian officials. There also have been a couple of written demarches, stating that the international community considers the border decision "final and binding."

Based on past experience, however, the Addis regime, calculates that what it is faced with is only a bluff from the international community, and has made up its mind to call the bluff. After all, nothing happened when it refused to comply with the Commissions express order. Nothing in the UN Secretary General's numerous reports or the statements and decisions of Security Council took Ethiopia to task, preferring instead to farcically "complement it for its commitment to the peace process." Its gross violations of the human rights of the overwhelming majority of its population continue to be glossed over. And more crucially, generous and disproportionate aid continues to prop up an unpopular and hated ethnic minority regime.

Ethiopia, therefore, reckons that the international community will not have the will or the stomach to condemn it and take meaningful measures to compel it to abide by the Peace Agreement and the Border Decision. It believes that, bar a few protestations, it can act with impunity. It is also confident that it can play its magic card of "not putting pressure on a government and a Prime Minister, who are facing acute political problems."

It is odd that the refrain, which we heard ad infinitum over the past few years, is once again on many people's lips. Prime Minister Meles is once again said to be in a fix. Yes, we are told, Meles accepts the decision. But not so the hard-liners. (Never mind that the hard-liners have been defeated, many rotting in jail, others harassed, persecuted, exiled). Consequently, it is political suicide for Meles to go along with the border ruling. He must be helped. Eritrea must show unlimited restraint.

The worn out refrain is misguided on several accounts. The Prime Minister may be unpopular, but he is not about to fall. The decision on Badme is not going to cause his immediate political suicide. The main reasons for his unpopularity go much deeper. They arise from his failure to correctly address Ethiopia's profound problems, from his institution of a minority ethnic regime, representing less than 5% of the population, which has monopolized all power at the expense of the overwhelming majority of Ethiopians.

Whatever the causes of the Prime Minister's and his government's difficulties, it is obvious that the responsibility for their resolution lies on the shoulders of the regime. They cannot and should not be mixed up with the border decision. In our view, the only way to really help Meles is to persuade him to quickly demarcate the border and focus on Ethiopia's real problems. Indulging in any way, even indirectly, Meles's fantasies about Badme and Eritrea, appeasing Ethiopia in its rejection of the April decision will only undermine the peace and harm both Eritrea and Ethiopia.

As for Eritrea, it appreciates the merits of restraint and has been impeccably restrained in the face of repeated Ethiopian provocation and a far from adequate international response. It strongly calls on the international community to take timely and concrete action to convince Ethiopia that recklessness will not pay. Even as it hopes that international action will stop the unraveling of the peace, Eritrea owes it to its people to temper its restraint with vigilance. With the memory of Ethiopia's surprise declaration of war in May 1998 still fresh in our minds, anything else would be inexcusable.


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