-Tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea continue to grow
-Both countries continue to wage proxy wars in Somalia and the Ogaden region of Ethiopia
-Renewal of direct hostilities remains possible
Ethiopian President Girma Woldegiorgis recently urged parliament to augment the country’s military preparedness in response to the increasing tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea. While the role of president in Ethiopia is largely ceremonial, the comment is reflective of Ethiopia’s overall policy towards Eritrea.
Relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea will continue to deteriorate in the near-term unless international intermediaries intervene.
The Origin of the Conflict
Relations between predominately Christian Ethiopia and predominately Muslim Eritrea have been strained over the past few decades, with Eritrea fighting a 30-year guerrilla war against Ethiopia until finally gaining independence in 1993. The two countries again fought, this time over their undefined border, from 1998 to 2000. The fighting ended in a peace agreement that is currently monitored by United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE).
As part of the peace agreement, the UN established the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC) to define the border between the two countries. The EEBC ruled in 2002 that the border town of Badme, the disputed town that caused the war, belonged to Eritrea. However, Ethiopia has refused to implement the agreement, causing continued tensions between the two countries.
War by Proxy
Since the end of the 1998-2000 war, Eritrea and Ethiopia have waged war by proxy. In January 2007, Ethiopia helped the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in Somalia overthrow the ruling Islamic Courts Union. Eritrea has responded by supporting the Somali insurgency.
A July 2007 report by the United Nations (UN) accuses Eritrea of sending large shipments of weapons to the Somali insurgency. Additionally, the United States has independently complied evidence that corroborates the UN findings, leading the US to consider designating Eritrea as a state sponsor of terrorism (Previous Report).
Additionally, Ethiopia has accused Eritrea of supporting the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF). Ethiopia blames Eritrea for the ONLF terrorist attack against a Chinese-run oil field in the Ogaden Region that killed 64 Ethiopian soldiers and 9 Chinese oil workers .
The ONLF had not previously demonstrated the capability to carry out such a large scale and complex attack, leading Ethiopia to believe Eritrea played an important role in supporting the attack. Additionally, the witnesses of the attack reported some of the fighters were wearing Eritrean military uniforms and speaking with Eritrean accents. Following the attack on the Chinese run oil field, Ethiopia has launched a brutal crackdown in the Ogaden region, leading to accusations that the government is violating human rights.
Renewed Hostilities Possible
Ethiopia’s continued failure to implement the decision of the EEBC has caused tensions between the two countries to remain high. The proxy wars being fought in Somalia and Ethiopia’s Ogaden region increase the likelihood of a renewal of hostilities between the two countries.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has declared that Ethiopia will defend itself if it is provoked by Eritrea. Further raising the prospect of a renewal of hostilities, Ethiopia announced in September 2007 that it was considering terminating the peace agreement that ended the border war due to Eritrea violating the terms of the agreement.
Without action by the international community to implement the EEBC decision, relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea will remain tense, with renewed fighting possible.