BY SIMON WELDEMICHAEL
After sixteen years of holding an arrogant and irresolute position over the decision of the Eritrea Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC), word of Ethiopia’s recent “acceptance” of the ruling has recently been heard. Ethiopia’s past actions not only undermine the “final and binding” April 2002 EEBC decision but also the December 2000 Algiers and the June 2000 Cessation of Hostilities Agreements.
For sixteen years, Ethiopia has occupied Eritrea’s sovereign territory, intensified resettlement in territory awarded and delimitated to Eritrea, and conducted various military and propaganda provocations. Ethiopia’s government repeatedly condemned and undermined the final and binding nature of the EEBC decision as “null and void”. Instead of working to implement the boundary demarcation, they chose to complicate the issue. One time they asked clarification, another time they demanded negotiation, and yet another alteration. For the last two decades, Ethiopia worked against peace and instigated conflicts across the region.
Flip-flopping was the political culture of the TPLF-led Ethiopian government. When the EEBC gave its decision on 13 April 2002, the Ethiopian government misinformed its people and the international community that the Commission awarded Badme and other territories to Ethiopia. The trumpet of happiness and acceptance was blaring in Addis Ababa. A month latter on 13 May 2002, Ethiopia submitted a “Request for Interpretation, Correction and Consultation” letter to the commission. However, the Commission did not find uncertainty in the decision and concluded that “the Ethiopian request is inadmissible and no further action will be taken upon it.”
In December 2004, Ethiopia addressed to the President of the EEBC on the five-point proposal for resolving the dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea. In the prelude of the letter of 25 November 2004, it states, “Reiterating Ethiopia’s conviction which remains unchanged that the decision of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission was flawed…” Since the decision was flawed, in its own eyes, they came up with the wily “five-point peace proposal” as an alternative. When the Boundary Commission’s Registry informed Eritrea about the new “Peace Proposal” Eritrea responded that the only peace plan that the Commission is mandated to implement is the Algiers Agreement of 12 December 2000.
On 3 December 2004, the late Prime Minister Meles Zenewai, in an interview with Reuters, stated, “On the so-called 85 percent of the boundary, we don’t have any objection and it can be demarcated straightaway. The remaining 15 per cent of the border could be solved through dialogue.”
Three days later, in a 7 December 2004 interview with the Ethiopian Herald, the Prime Minister again condemned the 13 April 2002 decision: “We have reiterated that the decision passed by the Commission does not bring about peace… Accordingly, we suggested a proposal for dialogue and negotiation to reach a solution.”
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The Ethiopian government has repeatedly informed the Ethiopian people and the international community that the EEBC decision is null and void. The government wished to amend the decision and sought to give legitimacy to its illegal occupation of sovereign Eritrean territory. Negotiation before implementation of the boundary demarcation is an attempt by Ethiopia to reopen the court verdict. This attempt has been foiled by the strict persistence of Eritrea to the application of the court verdict and the professionalism of the EEBC.
The EEBC has not turned to the second phase of its work, the demarcation of the boundary solely due to Ethiopian defiance. Both parties have agreed, the Commission’s delimitation determination is “final and binding.” They also agreed that the demarcation has to be done on the ground as delimited in the delimitation decision. The agreement stipulated clearly that variation of that boundary or the elaboration of some new boundary is not allowed. This conclusion is reflected in the Commission’s Demarcation Directions of 8 July 2002, which reads as follows: “The Commission has no authority to vary the boundary line.”
Therefore any attempt to substitute the 13 April 2002 EEBC decision is illegal and Eritrea reiterated that view and rejected any alteration of the decision. In this case, the professionalism of the EEBC deserves appreciation for its persistence in its decision and resistance to the various forms of pressure to depart from the strict application of the boundary line.
Article 4(15) of the December Agreement provides that “The parties agree that the delimitation and demarcation determinations of the Commission shall be final and binding. Each party shall respect the border so determined, as well as the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the other party.”
Ethiopia violates the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Eritrea. Skirmishes and military provocations continue to happen all over the border. Considering the continued occupation of Badme and other Eritrean territories, aggressive incursions such as the Tsorona incident of 2016 and many others, Ethiopia’s involvement in the project of destabilizing Eritrea engineered by Qatar, sensationalized and orchestrated media campaigns, and conflicting speeches of the Ethiopian officials, it’s difficult to believe the supposedly “new” message coming from Ethiopia.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, in his inaugural address, stated that “The Somali, the Sidama, the Benishangul, the Walaita, the Gambella, the Gurage, the Afar, the Silte, the Kambata, the Hadiya, the Harari, and all other peoples of Ethiopia have fallen saying my death before Badme and intermingled with its soil.”
Ethiopians are not only killed in Badme. During the thirty years war of independence, thousands of invading Ethiopian army were buried in different parts of Eritrea. The same story also happened again during the TPLF invasion. Then, according to his explanation, whatever land has Ethiopian buried is Ethiopian. After the government announced the acceptance of the agreement, various media outlets of the TPLF broadcasted orchestrated hostile and inflammatory public opinion. On one side they expressed their support and on the other side they bring people demonstrating against the decision.
Although it’s good to be optimistic, equally the world should know that Ethiopia is not a genuine partner for peace and it is not and never was interested in international verdict. If the new government really wants to solve the problem it must simply submit to the UNSC its unconditional respect for the work of the Boundary Commission. In the past, when the Ethiopian government denounced the ruling, it sent a letter to the UN and the EEBC. Similarly, now they have to send a letter of acceptance to concerned bodies.
The time of mediation and arbitration is over. The diplomatic and political aspect of the dispute culminated in the EEBC decision. What is left is the genuine cooperation of Ethiopia in implementation on ground. There is nothing new on the Eritrean side. Eritrea has already accepted the decision, before sixteen years. The international community should now force Ethiopia to accept the ruling. The next steps to be taken are clear: Ethiopia must withdraw its troops from Eritrean territory and cooperate fully with expeditious demarcation of the boundary. These positive actions would bring peace to the Ethiopian people, the people of Eritrea, and the Horn.
As far as Eritrea is concerned, there is no time in history that the country goes against any international agreement. Eritrea has showed its legality at all times with any party. Eritrea has a tradition of obedience to international law and arbitration. Among many things, Eritrea’s compliance to settle the dispute on questions of territorial sovereignty and delimitation of marine boundary with neighboring Yemen is a case in point.
Eritrea is a trusted, principled, and law abiding country. No one can bring a legal case that Eritrea fails to accept. All past records proved that Eritrean ways are ways of obedience to the rule of law, and all her paths are peace. The peace loving people of Eritrea are again waiting for Ethiopia to undertake practical and honest step. Words are not enough to prove the sincerity of Ethiopia’s acceptance. As for Eritrea, it must be patient, vigilant, and cautious. If the Ethiopian message is genuine, it’s the reward of our perseverance. Let a time of war be replaced by a time of peace and cooperation.