By Kirubel Tadesse
In Capital,Monday, 31 October 2011, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
The United Nations Secretary-General is expressing concern over the Ethiopian-Eritrean border impasse as a peace deal that ended their bloody war in 2000 has not yet been followed by a border demarcation as first agreed by the two sides.
The Secretary- General’s remarks come as the UN Security Council considers an Ethiopian backed proposal to make tougher sanctions against Eritrea which, if imposed, could likely raise further tension between the two countries.
“I am concerned that this border issue has not been resolved in accordance with the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission’s [EEBC] recommendations,” the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in an exclusive interview with Capital.
The Secretary-General says he has raised the issue with the leaders of the two countries; Ethiopian Prime Meles Zenawi and Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki. Eritrea was once a strong ally that helped to unseat a brutal Ethiopian communist regime in 1991 which was soon followed by their succession.
In 1998 the two countries unexpectedly entered into a full scale war, suffering massive casualties and hundreds of millions of dollars of expense. The conflict ended in June 2000 when a peace deal was signed.
“The Algiers Agreement of 2000 was able to address this war between Ethiopia and Eritrea. With the binding agreement on delimitation and demarcation between the Eritrea and Ethiopia [border], it is up to the two countries to implement these recommendations,” Mr. Ban Ki moon explained in the interview.
“I sincerely hope that all EEBC’s recommendations could be implemented through dialogue between the two countries,” he also said.
EEBC, established under the Algiers Agreement, in collaboration with Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague agreed upon a “final and binding” verdict.
Since the ruling that awarded some territory to each side, Ethiopia sought to negotiate with Eritrea including for a possible land swap while Asmara insists on an immediate physical demarcation based on the verdict.
In November 2006 both Ethiopia and Eritrea boycotted an EEBC meeting at the Hague which would have demarcated their disputed border using UN maps.
It is unlikely that Ethiopian and Eritrean leaders will soon return to a discussion table as both routinely accuse each other of destabilizing the Horn of Africa region. Ethiopia since March has stepped up the charge and even vowed to take “all measures necessary” against Eritrea.
Eritrea is already facing an arms embargo imposed by the UN Security Council over reports it supports the Somali based Islamist group al-Shabab. Asmara denies any support to the group and often decries any wrongdoing as ‘smear campaign’ by Addis Ababa.
In July the report of the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea said that the Eritrean Government planned a massive attack on an African Union meeting held earlier this year in Addis Ababa. According to this report, the plot was just one of multiple violations of Security Council arms embargoes committed by Eritrea.
The Secretary-General in a Capital interview called on Eritrean authorities to adhere to the embargo: “It is important for the Eritrean government to implement fully the resolutions adopted by the Security Council; it is an obligation by all member states to fully comply with the resolutions taken by the Security Council.”
Ever since the July report by the UN panel tasked with monitoring Eritrea’s compliance with embargoes, the East African block- Intergovernmental Authority on Development Regional (IGAD) - has been calling on the Security Council to make tougher sanctions against Eritrea.
Despite the latest promise of cooperation coming from Asmara, a six page IGAD spearheaded resolution was tabled for negotiation at the fifteen-member UN Security Council.
The six-page draft resolution proposes to ban foreign companies from investing in the country’s lately booming mining sector and prohibits transfers of the so called diaspora tax- two percent of their annual income that Eritreans living abroad pay to the Eritrean government through their embassies overseas. Eritrea’s 2.59 billion dollar economy is reportedly reliant on mineral resources such as gold, and the money sent from Eritreans living abroad.
On October 18 the Security Council members have begun negotiations on the draft resolution prepared by Gabon and cosponsored by Nigeria which are two of the three African nations in the council. The other African member in the council, South Africa, is said to be demanding ‘some changes’ to the draft.
Western countries led by the United States are reportedly backing the proposal. The US is currently strengthening its ties with Ethiopia as they team up to fight al-Qaeda’s affiliate in the region -al-Shabab-.
The US Air Force has been secretly flying armed Reaper drones on counterterrorism missions from a remote civilian airport in southern Ethiopia, the Washington Post reported on Thursday.
According to this report, the US Air Force has invested millions of dollars to upgrade an airfield in the southern Ethiopian town of Arba Minch where it has built a small annex to house a fleet of drones that can be equipped with Hellfire missiles and satellite-guided bombs.