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|Part of Conflicts in the Horn of Africa|
Eritrean artillery firing on the border
|Commanders and leaders|
|Sebhat Ephrem||Tsadkan Gebre-Tensae|
|Casualties and losses|
The Eritrean–Ethiopian War took place from May 1998 to June 2000 between Ethiopia and Eritrea, forming one of the conflicts in the Horn of Africa. Eritrea and Ethiopia—two of the world's poorest countries—spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the war, and suffered tens of thousands of casualties as a direct consequence of the conflict, which resulted in minor border changes.
According to a ruling by an international commission in The Hague, Eritrea broke international law and triggered the war by invading Ethiopia.
At the end of the war Ethiopia held all of the disputed territory and had advanced into Eritrea. After the war ended, the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission, a body founded by the UN, established that Badme, the disputed territory at the heart of the conflict, belongs to Eritrea. As of 2012[update], Ethiopia still occupies the territory.
From 1961 until 1991, Eritrea had fought a long war of independence against Ethiopia. The Ethiopian Civil War began on 12 September 1974 when the Marxist Derg staged a coup d'état against Emperor Haile Selassie, and lasted until 1991 when the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF)—a coalition of rebel groups led by the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF))—overthrew the Derg government (weakened by their loss of support with the fall of communism in Eastern Europe) and installed a transitional government in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.
During the civil war, the groups fighting the Derg government had a common enemy, so the TPLF allied itself with the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF). In 1991 as part of the United Nations facilitated transition of power to the transitional government, it was agreed that the EPLF should set up an autonomous transitional government in Eritrea and that a referendum would be held in Eritrea to find out if Eritreans wanted to secede from Ethiopia. The referendum was held and the vote was overwhelming in favour of independence. In April 1993 independence was achieved and the new state joined the United Nations.
In 1991 the EPLF backed transitional government of Eritrea and the TPLF backed transitional government of Ethiopia, agreed to set up a commission to look into any problems that arose between the two former war time allies over the foreseen independence of Eritrea. This commission was not successful and during the following years relations between the governments of the two sovereign states deteriorated.
The border between the two states became a major irritant, and in November 1997 a border committee was set up to try to resolve that specific dispute. After federation and before independence the line of the border had been of minor importance because it was only a demarcation line between federated provinces and initially the two governments tacitly agreed that the border should remain as it had been immediately before independence. However on independence the border became an international frontier, and the two governments could not agree on the line that the border should take along its entire length, and they looked back to the colonial period treaties between Italy and Ethiopia to for a bases in international law for the precise line of the frontier between the states. Problems then arose because they could not agree on the interpretation of those agreements and treaties, and it was not clear under international law how binding colonial treaties were on the two states.
Writing after the war had finished Jon Abbink postulates that President Isaias Afewerki of Eritrea, realising that his influence over the regime in Ethiopia was slipping and given that "the facts on the ground, in the absence of a concrete border being marked — which anyhow lost much of its relevance after 1962 when Eritrea was absorbed by Ethiopia — have eminent relevance to any borderline decision of today" calculated that Eritrea could annex Badme. If successful this could be used to enhance his reputation and help maintain Eritrea's privileged economic relationship with Ethiopia. However because Badme was in the province of Tigray the region that many of the members of the Ethiopian government originate (including Meles Zenawi the Ethiopian prime minister), the Ethiopian government came under political pressure from within the EPRDF as well as from wider Ethiopian public to meet force with force.
After a series of armed incidents in which several Eritrean officials were killed near Badme, on 6 May 1998, a large Eritrean mechanized force entered the Badme region, under Ethiopian administration, along the border of Eritrea and Ethiopia's northern Tigray Region, resulting in a fire fight between the Eritrean soldiers and the Tigrayan militia and security police they encountered.
14. The evidence showed that, at about 5:30 a.m. on 12 May 1998, Eritrean armed forces, composed of at least two brigades of regular soldiers, supported by tanks and artillery, attacked the town of Badme and several other border areas in Ethiopia’s Tahtay Adiabo Wereda, as well as at least two places in its neighboring Laelay Adiabo Wereda. On that day and in the days immediately following, Eritrean armed forces then pushed across the flat Badme plain to higher ground in the east. Although the evidence regarding the nature of Ethiopian armed forces in the area conflicted, the weight of the evidence indicated that the Ethiopian defenders were composed merely of militia and some police, who were quickly forced to retreat by the invading Eritrean forces. Given the absence of an armed attack against Eritrea, the attack that began on 12 May cannot be justified as lawful self-defense under the UN Charter.
15. The areas initially invaded by Eritrean forces on that day were all either within undisputed Ethiopian territory or within territory that was peacefully administered by Ethiopia and that later would be on the Ethiopian side of the line to which Ethiopian armed forces were obligated to withdraw in 2000 under the Cease-Fire Agreement of June 18, 2000.
— Eritrea Ethiopia Claims Commission
On 13 May 1998 Ethiopia, in what Eritrean radio described as a "total war" policy, mobilized its forces for a full assault against Eritrea. The Claims Commission found that this was in essence an affirmation of the existence of a state of war between belligerents, not a declaration of war, and that Ethiopia also notified the United Nations Security Council, as required under Article 51 of the UN Charter.
The fighting quickly escalated to exchanges of artillery and tank fire, leading to four weeks of intense fighting. Ground troops fought on three fronts. On 5 June 1998, the Ethiopians launched air attacks on the airport in Asmara and the Eritreans retaliated by attacking the airport of Mekele. These raids caused civilian casualties and deaths on both sides of the border. The United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1177 condemning the use of force and welcomed statements from both sides to end the air strikes.
There was then a lull as both sides mobilized huge forces along their common border and dug extensive trenches. Both countries spent several hundred million dollars on new military equipment. This was despite the peace mediation efforts by the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and the US/Rwanda peace plan that was in the works. The US/Rwanda proposal was a four point peace plan that called for withdrawal of both forces to pre-June 1998 positions. Eritrea refused, and instead demanded the demilitarization of all disputed areas along the common border, to be overseen by a neutral monitoring force, and direct talks.
With Eritrea's refusal to accept the US/Rwanda peace plan, on 22 February 1999 Ethiopia launched a massive military offensive to recapture Badme. Tension had been high since 6 February 1999, when Ethiopia claimed that Eritrea had violated the moratorium on air raids by bombing Adigrat, a claim it later withdrew. Surveying the extensive trenches the Eritreans had constructed, Ethiopian General Samora Yunis observed, "The Eritreans are good at digging trenches and we are good at converting trenches into graves. They, too, know this. We know each other very well".
Following the first five days of heavy fighting at Badme, by which time Ethiopia had broken through Eritrea's fortified front and was 10 kilometers (six miles) deep into Eritrean territory, Eritrea accepted the OAU peace plan on 27 February 1999. While both states said that they accepted the OAU peace plan, Ethiopia did not immediately stop its advance because it demanded that peace talks be contingent on an Eritrean withdrawal from territory occupied since the first outbreak of fighting.
On 16 May the BBC reported that after a lull of two weeks the Ethiopians had attacked at Velessa on the Tsorona front-line, south of Eritrea's capital Asmara and that after two days of heavy fighting the Eritreans had beaten back the attack claiming to have destroyed more than forty-five Ethiopian tanks; although not able to verify the claim, which the Ethiopian Government dismissed as ridiculous, the BBC reporter did see more than 300 dead Ethiopians and more than 20 destroyed Ethiopian tanks. In June 1999 the fighting continued with both sides in entrenched positions. About a quarter of Eritrean soldiers were women.
"Proximity talks" broke down in early May 2000 "with Ethiopia accusing Eritrea of imposing unacceptable conditions". On 12 May the Ethiopians launched an offensive that broke through the Eritrean lines between Shambuko and Mendefera, crossed the Mareb River, and cut the road between Barentu and Mendefera, the main supply line for Eritrean troops on the western front of the fighting.
Ethiopian sources state that On 16 May Ethiopian aircraft all returned to their bases after attacking strategic targets between Areza and Maidema, and between Barentu and Omohager, while heavy ground fighting continued in the Das and Barentu area and in Maidema. The next day Ethiopian ground forces with air support captured Das. Eritrean forces evacuated Barentu and fighting continued in Maidema. Also on 17 May, due to the continuing hostilities, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1298 imposing an arms embargo on both countries.
By 23 May Ethiopia claimed "[its] troops had seized vital command posts in the heavily defended Zalambessa area, about 100km (60 miles) south of the Eritrean capital, Asmara". But the Eritreans claimed they withdrew from the disputed border town of Zalambessa and other disputed areas on the central front as a "...'goodwill' gesture to revive peace talks" while Ethiopia claimed it was a 'tactical retreat' to take away one of Ethiopia's last remaining excuses for continuing the war, ("The scale of Eritrean defeat was apparent when Eritrea unexpectedly accepted the OAU peace framework."). Having recaptured most of the contested territories—and heard that Eritrean government in accordance with a request from the OAU would withdraw from any other territories it occupied at the start of fighting—on 25 May 2000, Ethiopia declared the war was over. By the end of May 2000, Ethiopia occupied about a quarter of Eritrea's territory, displacing 650,000 people and destroying key components of Eritrea's infrastructure.
The widespread use of trenches has resulted in comparisons of the conflict to the trench warfare of World War I. This trench warfare led to the loss of "...thousands of young lives in human-wave assaults on Eritrea's positions..." The Eritrean defences were eventually overtaken by a surprise Ethiopian pincer movement on the Western front, attacking a mined, but lightly defended mountain (without trenches), resulting in the capture of Barentu and an Eritrean retreat. The element of surprise in the attack involved the use of donkeys as pack animals as well as being a solely infantry affair, with tanks coming in afterwards only to secure the area.
The fighting also spread to Somalia as both governments tried to outflank one another. The Eritrean government began supporting the Oromo Liberation Front, a rebel group seeking independence of Oromia from Ethiopia that was based in a part of Somalia controlled by Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid. Ethiopia retaliated by supporting groups in southern Somalia who were opposed to Aidid, and by renewing relations with the Islamic regime in Sudan – which is accused of supporting the Eritrean Islamic Salvation, a Sudan-based group that had launched attacks in the Eritrea-Sudan border region—while also lending support to various Eritrean rebel groups including a group known as the Eritrean Islamic Jihad.
Eritrea claimed that 19,000 Eritrean soldiers were killed during the conflict; most reports put the total war casualties from both sides as being around 70,000. All these figures have been contested and other news reports simply state that "tens of thousands" or "as many as 100,000" were killed in the war. Eritrea accused Ethiopia of using "human waves" to defeat Eritrean trenches. But according to a report by The Independent, there were no "human waves" because Ethiopia instead outmaneuvered and overpowered the Eritrean trenches.
The fighting led to massive internal displacement in both countries as civilians fled the war zone. Ethiopia expelled 77,000 Eritreans and Ethiopians of Eritrean origin it deemed to be security risk, thus compounding Eritrea's refugee problem. The majority of the 77,000 Eritrean and Ethiopians of Eritrean origins were considered well off by the Ethiopian standard of living. They were deported after their belongings had been confiscated. On the Eritrean side, around 7,500 Ethiopians living in Eritrea were interned, and thousands of others were deported. Thousands more remain in Eritrea, many of whom are unable to pay the 1,000 Birr tax on Ethiopians relocating to Ethiopia. According to Human Rights Watch, detainees on both sides were subject in some cases to torture, rape, or other degrading treatment.
The economies of both countries were already weak as a result of decades of cold war politics, civil war and drought. The war exacerbated these problems, resulting in food shortages. Prior to the war, much of Eritrea's trade was with Ethiopia, and much of Ethiopia's foreign trade relied on Eritrean roads and ports.
On 18 June 2000, the parties agreed to a comprehensive peace agreement and binding arbitration of their disputes under the Algiers Agreement. A 25-kilometer-wide Temporary Security Zone (TSZ) was established within Eritrea, patrolled by United Nations peacekeeping forces from over 60 countries (the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE). On 12 December 2000 a peace agreement was signed by the two governments.
On 13 April 2002, the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission established under the Algiers Agreement in collaboration with Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague agreed upon a "final and binding" verdict. The ruling awarded some territory to each side, but Badme (the flash point of the conflict) was awarded to Eritrea. Both countries vowed to accept the decision wholeheartedly the day after the ruling was made official. A few months later Ethiopia requested clarifications, then stated it was deeply dissatisfied with the ruling. In September 2003 Eritrea refused to agree to a new commission, which they would have had to agree to if the old binding agreement was to be set aside, and asked the international community to put pressure on Ethiopia to accept the ruling. In November 2004, Ethiopia accepts the ruling "in principle".
On 10 December 2005, Ethiopia announced it was withdrawing some of its forces from the Eritrean border "in the interests of peace". Then, on 15 December the United Nations began to withdraw peacekeepers from Eritrea in response to a UN resolution passed the previous day.
On 21 December 2005, a commission at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague ruled that Eritrea broke international law when it attacked Ethiopia in 1998, triggering the broader conflict.
Ethiopia and Eritrea have since remobilized troops along the border, and as of 2006[update], there is new fear that the two countries could return to war. On 7 December 2005, Eritrea banned UN helicopter flights and ordered Western members (particularly from the United States, Canada, Europe and Russia) of the UN peacekeeping mission on its border with Ethiopia to leave within 10 days, sparking concerns of further conflict with its neighbour. In November 2006 Ethiopia and Eritrea boycotted a Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission meeting at the Hague which would have demarcated their disputed border using UN maps. Ethiopia was not there because it does not accept the decision and as it will not allow physical demarcation it will not accept map demarcation, and Eritrea was not there because although it backs the commission's proposals, it insists that the border should be physically marked out.
Despite the peace treaty, tensions remain between the two countries. Both nations have been accused of supporting the dissents and armed opposition groups against each other. A Canadian analyst & researcher for UN news agency IRIN, John Young, reported that "the military victory of the EPRDF (Ethiopia) that ended the Ethiopia–Eritrea War, and its occupation of a swath of Eritrean territory, brought yet another change to the configuration of armed groups in the borderlands between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Asmara replaced Khartoum as the leading supporter of anti-EPRDF armed groups operating along the frontier". However, Ethiopia is also accused of supporting rebels opposed to the Eritrean government.
At the November 2007 deadline, some analysts feared the restart of the border war but the date passed without any conflict. There were many reasons why war didn't resume. Former U.S. Ambassador David Shinn said both Ethiopia and Eritrea were in a bad position. Many fear the weak Eritrean economy is not improving like other African nations while others say Ethiopia is bogged down in Mogadishu. David Shinn said Ethiopia has "a very powerful and so far disciplined national army that made pretty short work of the Eritreans in 2000 and the Eritreans have not forgotten that." But he stated Ethiopia is not interested in war because America would condemn Ethiopia if it initiated the war saying "I don't think even the US could sit by and condone an Ethiopian initiated attack on Eritrea." 
As agreed in the Algiers Agreement, the two parties presented their case at the Permanent Court of Arbitration to two different Commissions:
1. Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission
The International Bureau serves as Registry for this Commission established pursuant to the Agreement of 12 December 2000 between the Government of the State of Eritrea and the Government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, with a mandate "to delimit and demarcate the colonial treaty border based on pertinent colonial treaties (1900, 1902 and 1908) and applicable international law." Its first progress report to the UN Secretary-General was presented on 19 June 2001.
- The Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission delivered its Decision on Delimitation of the Border between Eritrea and Ethiopia to representatives of the two governments on Saturday, 13 April 2002. ...
- On 19 November 2003, the Commission met in The Hague with representatives of the parties. The President of the Commission made an opening statement expressing the concern of the Commission at the lack of progress in the demarcation process, setting out the Commission’s understanding of the positions of the parties and indicating that if progress was to be made, certain rigid positions would have to be modified. Following that meeting, the Commission concluded that, until the positions of either or both of the parties were modified, there was nothing more that the Commission could do.
— Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission
2. Eritrea-Ethiopia Claims Commission
The Eritrea-Ethiopia Claims Commission (the Commission) was established and operates pursuant to Article 5 of the Agreement signed in Algiers on 12 December 2000 between the Governments of the State of Eritrea and the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (the "December Agreement"). The Commission is directed to
- decide through binding arbitration all claims for loss, damage or injury by one Government against the other, and by nationals (including both natural and juridical persons) of one party against the Government of the other party or entities owned or controlled by the other party that are (a) related to the conflict that was the subject of the Framework Agreement, the Modalities for its Implementation and the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement, and (b) result from violations of international humanitarian law, including the 1949 Geneva Conventions, or other violations of international law.
— Eritrea Ethiopia Claims Commission
In July 2001 the Commission sat to decide its jurisdiction, procedures and possible remedies. The result of this sitting was issued on August 2001. In October 2001, following consultations with the Parties, the Commission adopted its Rules of Procedure. In December 2001 the Parties filed their claims with the Commission. The claims filed by the Parties relate to such matters as the conduct of military operations in the front zones, the treatment of POWs and of civilians and their property, diplomatic immunities and the economic impact of certain government actions during the conflict. At the end of 2005 final awards have been issued on claims on Pensions, and Ports. Partial awards have been issued for claims about: Prisoners of War, the Central Front, Civilians Claims, the Western and Eastern Fronts, Diplomatic, Economic and property losses, and Jus Ad Bellum.
The Ethiopia-Eritrean claim committee ruled that:
15. The areas initially invaded by Eritrean forces on that day [12 May 1998] were all either within undisputed Ethiopian territory or within territory that was peacefully administered by Ethiopia and that later would be on the Ethiopian side of the line to which Ethiopian armed forces were obligated to withdraw in 2000 under the Cease-Fire Agreement of 18 June 2000. In its Partial Award in Ethiopia’s Central Front Claims, the Commission held that the best available evidence of the areas effectively administered by Ethiopia in early May 1998 is that line to which they were obligated to withdraw in 2000. ...
16. Consequently, the Commission holds that Eritrea violated Article 2, paragraph 4, of the Charter of the United Nations by resorting to armed force to attack and occupy Badme, then under peaceful administration by Ethiopia, as well as other territory in the Tahtay Adiabo and Laelay Adiabo Weredas of Ethiopia, in an attack that began on 12 May 1998, and is liable to compensate Ethiopia, for the damages caused by that violation of international law.
— Eritrea Ethiopia Claims Commission
Christine Gray in an article in the European Journal of International Law (2006), questioned the jurisdiction of the Commission making such an award, because "there were many factors which suggested that the Commission should have abstained from giving judgment". For example the hearing of this claim, according to the Algiers agreement was to be heard by a separate commission and to be an investigation of exclusively factual concern not compensation.
On 19 June 2008 the BBC published a time line (which they update periodically) of the conflict and reported that the "Border dispute rumbles on":
- 2007 September – War could resume between Ethiopia and Eritrea over their border conflict, warns United Nations special envoy to the Horn of Africa, Kjell Magne Bondevik.
- 2007 November – Eritrea accepts border line demarcated by international boundary commission. Ethiopia rejects it.
- 2008 January – UN extends mandate of peacekeepers on Ethiopia-Eritrea border for six months. UN Security Council demands Eritrea lift fuel restrictions imposed on UN peacekeepers at the Eritrea-Ethiopia border area. Eritrea declines, saying troops must leave border.
- 2008 February – UN begins pulling 1,700-strong peacekeeper force out due to lack of fuel supplies following Eritrean government restrictions.
- 2008 April – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon warns of likelihood of new war between Ethiopia and Eritrea if peacekeeping mission withdraws completely. Outlines options for the future of the UN mission in the two countries.
- Djibouti accuses Eritrean troops of digging trenches at disputed Ras Doumeira border area and infiltrating Djiboutian territory. Eritrea denies charge.
- 2008 May – Eritrea calls on UN to terminate peacekeeping mission.
- 2008 June – Fighting breaks out between Eritrean and Djiboutian troops.—BBC
In August 2009 Eritrea and Ethiopia were ordered to pay each other compensation for the war. During 1990 there were reports of rebel groups operating on both side of the border, and in December the United nations imposed sanctions on Eritrea for its support for insurgents in Somalia.
In March 2011 Ethiopia accuses Eritrea of sending bombers across the border. In April Ethiopia acknowledges that it is supporting rebel groups inside Eritrea. In July a United Nations Monitoring Group accused Eritrea of being behind a plot to attack an African Union summit in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, in January 2011. Eritrea denied it stating it was a total fabrication.
In January 2012, five European tourists killed and a further two kidnapped close to the border with Eritrea in the remote Afar Region in Ethiopia. In early March the kidnappers, announced that they had released the two kidnapped Germans. On 15 of March Ethiopia ground forces attacked Eritrean military posts that they stated were bases in which Ethiopian rebels, including those involved in the January kidnappings, were trained by the Eritreans.