"Final and Binding?"
by: Tekie Fessehatzion.
February 28, 2003

Prime Minster Meles’ latest reading of the Border Commission’s decision on Badme is quintessential Woyane—replete with Doublespeak, half truths, out and out lies, and poorly disguised blackmail, telling the world community that if the Commission did not change its decision to meet Ethiopia’s territorial demands, there would be “problems.” The Prime Minister did not spell out the problems the decision would cause, but he did not need to because we have to assume that he would be the one responsible for causing the problem, for example, by harboring the terrorists who recently laid land mines in the Temporary Security Zone to frustrate the implementation of a binding UN Security Council Resolution, demonstrating the Prime Minister’s willful contempt for international law. Such threat from a head of a government openly challenging the implementation of a UN Security Resolution is not unheard of but is one the Security Council does not take kindly. Just ask Saddam Hussein. Not that Eritrea has any oil worth sending an international fighting force, but the gravity of disobeying a UN Security council Resolution still stands.

So used to having its way with the OAU and the facilitators, Ethiopia thought it could push around the Border Commission and UNMEE, both fully backed by several Security Council resolutions. Too spoiled by the OAU and the facilitators who coddled him and played to his whim at every turn, he finally run into a Commission that took its task seriously. For once, the government of Ethiopia miscalculated, hence its Prime Minister throwing tantrum, a fit, because the boundary is to be drawn on the ground, markers are about to be erected, and horror of horrors, detailed photography of the border shows Badme on the Eritrean side of the border, a final affirmation that the Eritrea-Ethiopia is fully backed by international law, never to be challenged again. There’s also another headache the Prime Minster has to contend with. The argument that Eritrea is the aggressor in the conflict is seriously undermined by the decision. Since when is defending your territory against intruders considered an aggression for which act the defenders are held culpable?

The Ethiopian government is in a fix. When the decision was announced April 13, 2001, its Foreign Minister, Mr. Seyoum Mesfin, wasted no time in declaring his government’s full acceptance of the decision. His acceptance was total and unconditional. And as is often the case when the Foreign Minster is near a microphone, he could not resist making a gratuitous remark at the expense of the Eritrean government. Walta Information reported that Ethiopian officials were pleased with the outcome and it quoted Foreign Minister Seyoum saying that “Sanity has won over insanity, and the rule of law has prevailed over the law of the jungle.” According to Walta, Mr. Seyoum added, “the decision rejected any attempt by Eritrea to get rewarded for its aggression.” Now, almost a year later, the Prime Minister is threatening to take the law into his hands, and to quote his Foreign Minster, “opting for the rule of the jungle over the rule of law” because he discovered belatedly that he did not like the decision. What in the world is happening? Welcome to the Woyane world, where things are not what they seem.

Not saying what you mean, and not mean what you are saying has been a hallowed tool of trade in Woyane’s approach to diplomacy. Words lose their every day meaning. A decision agreed in advance to be final and binding, becomes in Woyane’s view conditional and provisional. Who would forget Woyane’s insistence that “Badme and its environs” meant the entire stretch of the border, all 1000 plus kilometers of it? And when all the key agreements said the status of the disputed territory would be decided later on the basis of the application of colonial treaties and international law, Ethiopian diplomats insisted that the reference meant Ethiopian territories. If you followed closely the tortuous diplomatic back and forth around the issue you know the key stumbling block was Ethiopia’s insistence that Eritrea recognize the disputed territory as indisputably Ethiopian before the issue went to the Border commission.

If you go over the entire April 13, 2001 decision of the Border Commission with a fine comb you will not find a single reference to substantiate Prime Minister Meles’ assertion in the BBC interview that the Commission had said that Badme should go to the country that administered it during the war. It’s hard to think why the Prime Minster uttered such a falsehood. By leaving the famous straight line portion of the border essentially as is and explaining its reasoning in detail, the Commission had explicitly rejected Ethiopia’s claims west of the line. Badme town is west of the line. The Prime Minster talks about “fact” supporting Ethiopia’s position but all he gave in the interview for facts is an assertion of something nowhere in the document. But then in Woyane’s lexicon facts and assertions are interchangeable.

The question must be asked. Why did Ethiopia accept a final and binding decision only to reject it three years later? No one knows for sure. The best we can do is to consider several possibilities.

  • First: Probably the prime reason Ethiopia said “yes” to a final and binding decision at the beginning was money. Ethiopia had applied for debt relief (1.5 billion dollars), but was denied because of the war. Ethiopia’s acceptance of the decision signaled to the lending community that Ethiopia was now committed to peace, thus eligible for assistance. The World Bank Board of Governors rewarded Ethiopia with a 400 million dollars relief package to mitigate the ill effects of the war.
  • Second: Ethiopia said it accepted the border decision because it was awarded all the major areas it contested, including Badme. The government was aware of the coordinates of the straight-line boundary and it must have known where Badme was located. Still by falsely claiming that Ethiopia was awarded Badme, the government sought to justify to a gullible population that the huge human and material sacrifice was justified.

  • Third: It’s unlikely that the government ever thought the decision would be translated into a real boundary line on the ground. Ethiopia has a well-documented history of obstructing the implementation of agreements it willingly signed on. No reason why the decision would be any different.

    Ethiopia would obstruct the implementation of the decision to cause interminable delays to frustrate actual demarcation. In the mean time, Ethiopians would move into formerly Eritrean areas to create new settlement community of Ethiopians, to create facts on the ground similar to the Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

  • Fourth: Ethiopia had hoped that a post-Isaias government that Ethiopia has been working hard to bring about but without much success would be more amenable to exchange Badme for some promise of normalization including the promise of use of Massawa and Asab ports.

  • Finally, Ethiopia had hoped to appeal to Washington to prevail on Eritrea or the Commission to make a border adjustment to move the straight-line border to the west so as to leave Badme in Ethiopia’s hands. Indeed several months ago Foreign Minster Seyoum Mesfin made the rounds in Washington to argue that it would be politically suicidal for the government to concede that Badme was in Eritrea. He also added that the relocation of the ”hundreds of thousands” of people the drawing of the border would entail would raise massive humanitarian and logistical problems for Ethiopia. Wisely, Washington said, no: the border decision was unalterable. Realizing that time was running out, the Ethiopian government returned to obstructionism.

Ethiopia wasted little time in frustrating the work of UNMEE and the Border Commission. Tigrayans were moved to Dembe Mengul, west of the straight-line border, indisputably Eritrean territory. Not long after the April 13 decision was announced Ethiopia closed the border, making it impossible for UNMEE to carry out its assignment. Ethiopia engineered the mini crisis to derail aerial photography of the border, a critical step towards demarcation. Soon after Ethiopia demanded Major-General Patrick Cammaert, Force Commander of UNMEE, to be expelled because Ethiopia said it had lost confidence in him. Unfortunately for Ethiopia the Border Commission did not stand idle while Ethiopia was frustrating UNMEE’s work, the Commission went to the Security Council and obtained another resolution (Resolution 1433(2002) of August 14, 2002) that ordered Ethiopia to comply with the Commission’s binding Demarcation Directives including the eviction of Ethiopian squatters at Dembe Mengul. Slowly it became apparent for Ethiopia that demarcation had reached a point of no return, something Ethiopia never thought would happen, if Addis Ababa had anything to do with it. A determined Border Commission backed by a series of Security Council Resolutions was intent in marking the boundary line according to its April 13 decision.

Ethiopia’s about face change on the decision is the long held but never publicly admitted belief that demarcation of the border based on colonial treaties and international law would not bend or move the famous straight line portion of the border to sanction Tigray’s claim to territory west of the line. The Prime Minister and his colleagues are well read on the history of the area, but are unfortunately on denial that an Ethiopian emperor willingly and freely signed the treaties that formed the basis of the border separating the two countries. The colonial treaties, remarked A.J Toynbee, responding to Emperor Haile Selassie’s claim to Eritrea immediately after the War, were freely signed by Menelik at his finest hour— after the defeat of Italy at Aduwa, thus Ethiopia could have no legal claim to Eritrea. But Ethiopia’s newest rulers are pretending that the treaties were not binding on them, and thus a rectification of the border consistent with historic claims was in order.

This explains their deep-seated hostility to delimitation and demarcation based on international law and colonial treaties. Even when Ethiopia agreed to the inclusion of the key phrases in the documents it had signed to settle the conflict, the Prime Minster and his colleagues were never serious about implementation. They wanted Badme, if possible diplomatically or politically, if not by force, an approach that never wavered throughout the conflict. Prime Minister Meles knows he is taking a risk by defying a final and binding UN Security Council Resolution. He must think that it’s worth a gamble. There’s one problem, though. Even if he succeeds in preventing the erection of markers through out the border, the die has already been cast. The line on maps and official documents will show the true coordinates of the border, reflecting the permanency of the April 13, 2001 Border Commission decision.

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