Tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea snapped in June in their most dramatic way for the last 15 years.
Fighting that erupted at their border involved tanks and heavy shelling and left hundreds dead. While military ordinance has stopped falling for now, any truce – if that word is applicable, such is the ill will on both sides – hangs by a thread, as does the welfare of both countries and the fragile peace and development spreading in the Horn of Africa.
Initially, speculation circulated among critics of both countries’ governments that the clash was a fabrication to distract from recent critical reports published by the United Nations and advocacy group Human Rights Watch. Such scepticism, however, became harder to sustain as reports mounted about the gravity of the clash near the border town of Tserona.
Eritrea calls Ethiopia the aggressor engaging in “reckless military adventures” and puts the number of Ethiopian dead at 200 and wounded at 300. While rejecting that toll, Ethiopia’s government acknowledges that “a major engagement” took place; observers suggest it took action over Eritrean support of subversive elements inside Ethiopia.
This flash of instability actually occurred amid increasing harmony across the region thanks to increasing trade and economic integration between the likes of Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somaliland.
However, any sort of harmonising effect has long been absent at the Ethiopia-Eritrea border, which is frozen in a cold war-type stalemate following a fraught history between the two and in spite of shared bonds such as language, culture and family ties.
After Eritrea was subsumed into Ethiopia in 1962, it fought a 30-year liberation war against the powers in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital. This culminated in the fall of Ethiopia’s military dictatorship in 1991 after Eritrean fighters teamed up with Ethiopian rebels.
A referendum followed in 1993 in which the Eritrean people voted in favour of independence. Ethiopia’s new government – created by those same rebels – supported the referendum and its decision, while Eritreans had great hope for their country’s future.
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Cover Photo : An Eritrean soldier beats back a crowd of Ethiopian detainees at a camp in Sheketi, Eritrea in June 2000.
Source : Irish Times