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Eritrea and Ethiopia : the prospect for full scale war – By Dimetros Birku

June 22,2015

Eritrea and Ethiopia had a major battle on June 12,2016 for the first time since the cessation of hostility agreement in 2000 which was signed in Algiers. The causalities on both sides, conceivably, is heavy which the administration in Ethiopia admitted.

Eritrea announced that it lost 18 Eritreans in the battle. On the other hand, the number of causalities on the Ethiopian side is not known and no public funeral was held for soldiers who lost their lives in the recent battle – as was the case for many hundred Ethiopian soldiers who lost their lives fighting Al-Shabab in Somalia. The late Meles Zenawi was once asked by an opposition member in a parliamentary session regarding the number of soldiers Ethiopia lost in Somalia. Zenawi , rolling his eyes, bluntly replied that he has “no legal obligation to disclose figures.” It is possible that parents could not tell whether their sons/daughters in the army are dead or alive for many many years.

One of the controversial issues that caused war of words between Ethiopia and Eritrea immediately following the recent military clash was over the question as to who started the June 12 battle in the Tsorena front which is located well inside Eritrea, and only about 75 kilometers to the capital Asmara.

Unlike their guerrilla years, the administration in Asmara and TPLF relation is transformed from friendship to enmity. And their policies towards each other is based on the new reality : enmity. There is no confusion about that.

However, based on circumstantial evidences and priories – economic, political and military – it is does not sound plausible to think that Eritrea would start a war at this point in time , to say the least. On the other hand, one of the things that the TPLF regime panics about is an increasingly resilient insurgency from Ethiopian Oppositions along the Ethio-Eritrean border – opposition that was denied constitutional right to engage in peaceful and legal political opposition. And Eritrea made that possible, for TPLF -not its own domestic policy. So the TPLF regime wagging war against Eritrea is almost like, in the minds of TPLF leadership, something expedient. And that is why it is very likely for the recent conflict to be initiated by TPLF and that is why the expression “attack” from the Eritrean side makes sense.

Besides, what’s clear is that the conflict broke out barely days after United Nations Human Rights Commission accused Eritrea of what it calls “crimes against humanity.” The tone of allegation is serious ; in some sense resembles language used against states that become a victim of “humanitarian intervention” war in the end.
Eritrea’s military conscription is seen a political light and coded as “enslavement.”

As opportunist as it is, perhaps the TPLF administration was tempted to seize the political opportunity by conducting war at a time when the “international community” is hassling Eritrea on grounds of “human rights”. Or perhaps TPLF regime is even given incentive and directive from countries like the US, statement issued by Eritrea’s Ministry of Information is actually very clear on that, to further punish Eritrea for resisting dictation from US government and pursuing its own policy in light of its national interest. Eritrea is already a country under sanction.

The prospect for full scale war

Without a doubt there is a strong desire on the part of TPLF for a full scale war against Eritrea. Simply because that’s where major threat for its power emanates from. There are at least 20,000 armed rebel forces in the Ethio-Eritrea border.

Residents in the adjacent areas of Eritrean border,which TPLF illegally and forcefully included to Tigray region against their will to remain part of Amharic speaking Ethiopia, have been fighting to make TPLF recognize their social and cultural identity ; not Tigray.

If rebels in the Ethio-Ethiopian border managed to get a foot hold in these areas, the military balance in the fight against TPLF could change in no time which means that TPLF will cease to exist as bully and ethno-supremacist political force – something TPLF wants to avoid by all means.

The “international community” seem to be tacitly patting TPLF in the shoulder to go ahead with a plan of war against Eritrea. This obviously pushes Eritrea to look for allies and at this point the international system is not entirely and effectively under the total control of the US which makes it unlikely for a Libya like airstrike against Eritrea. That is why using TPLF is a probable option for the “international community” in its feud against Eritrea.

Can TPLF win a full fledged war against Eritrea?

If we are to weigh this question on the basis of reality in Ethiopia, it is unlikely for TPLF to win full fledged war.

Virtually people in all parts of Ethiopia experienced the brutes of TPLF. In the recent movement against Addis Ababa master plan alone, more than 400 Ethiopians from oromo speaking parts of Ethiopia were killed. Gambella, a region in the south western parts of Ethiopia, has similar experience. Recently, Konso area of Ethiopia is experiencing same situation ; arbitrary arrest and killings. All that, among other administrative issues within the army, explains military defections that has become rife.

Recent reports from Ethiopia also indicate that TPLF government is not successful in terms of securing adequate military conscription – which is in turn indicative of the fact that TPLF could no longer count on Ethiopians to fight bloody war against Eritrea.

Eritrea demonstrated caution, even political wisdom – I would say, in framing the conflict in that statements from Eritrea tend to specifically refer to TPLF as opposed to Ethiopia which is a good thing.

Full scale war might be inevitable and military planning on the part of Eritrea need to be done in a way to mobilize Ethiopians who are bearing unimaginable repression by TPLF.

Dimetros Birku
Could be reached on twitter : @dimetros
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