"Acceptance, in Principle" shouldn’t be mistaken for Unequivocal Acceptance
By: Ghidewon Abay Asmerom
November 27, 2004

As people read repeatedly “Ethiopia backs down over border” or “Ethiopia accepts border decision,” and before they start praising Ethiopia’s Prime Minister for “statesmanship”, there are questions that beg asking. These are: “did Ethiopia really get a Damascus’ road conversion or is this designed to be a public relations stunt like the one it tried to pull the morning of April 13, 2002?” “Is Ethiopia’s five-point peace proposal intended to genuinely move the demarcation process forward or is it a stalling tactic typical of the Ethiopian regime?” Should Eritreans, as the Prime Minister is asking them to do, trust that his government is finally ready to make peace with their country abandoning its expansionist agenda?

It is good to be optimists and Eritreans are optimists by nature and culture, but if the past is any indication, there is nothing to be hopeful. The latest statement from Prime Minister Meles and his rubber stamp Parliament is no different than all the other public relations statements that were coming out of Addis during the two year war, or before and after the April 2002 Decision. In the opinion of Eritrean people and its government who more than anyone else understand the workings of the Ethiopian regime nothing has changed and nothing will change. We hope to be proved wrong this time around but we cannot afford to be deceived by any Ethiopian commitment before every demarcation pillar is erected according to the Demarcation Directives of the Commission that were accepted by both parties at the time they were presented.

Short of any concrete step on the ground, we can only accept the latest proposal from Ethiopia just as it was offered, “in principle”. The magic two words, “in principle”, that the Prime Minister found it very important to repeat ten times (an exact count) in his speech to the parliament mean “hypothetically”, “in paper”, or “in theory.” If Ethiopia’s latest proposal makes one thing clear is that Ethiopia is not yet ready to accept the Decision “in practice”. Ethiopia is also far from accepting the EEBC Decision unequivocally and unconditionally as the last two Resolutions of the UN Security Council (Resolution 1531 and Resolution 1560 from March 12 and September 14, 2004) demanded.

Ethiopia is telling the world it wants to have its way, by accepting the Decision of the Commission on the condition of “give and take.” In other words its latest offer is neither "a new proposal” nor is it “capable of bringing a solution to the Eritrean-Ethiopian conflict.” To do so Ethiopia has to accept the Decision unconditionally. If truth was to be told Ethiopia’s latest offer is a spoiled old wine in a redecorated wineskin.

Ethiopia’s illegal and relentless demand for a change to the Decision, just as it is trying to do now through the cloak of “give and take”, was precisely what led the Commission to go public with its Observations of March 2003. Ethiopia’s reaction at the time was to a public rejection of the Decision. How can this proposal be any different than what Ethiopia tried the Commission to accept repeatedly from May 13, 2002 to January 23, 2003? It is not! In fact it is exactly the same old policy of deception.

There cannot and should not be any other proposal on top of the Algiers Agreement. There are no modalities that need replacement or are not effective. As the Commission made it clear in its October 7, 2003 response to Ethiopia’s public rejection of the Decision, there are no modalities which cannot be effective “by Ethiopia’s compliance with its obligations under the Algiers Agreement, in particular its obligations to treat the Commission’s delimitation determination as ‘final and binding’”. There are no demarcation modalities that would not bring lasting peace if Ethiopia chooses “to cooperate with the Commission, its experts and other staff in all respects during the process of demarcation.” Implementation of the Decision and cooperation with the Commission, not a renegotiating of the Algiers Agreement is what is needed at this time. No five or fifteen point proposal can serve as a magic pill to bring peace. What will serve the cause of peace is Ethiopia’s change in attitude and if the latest proposal is any indication Ethiopia is far from changing its aggressive attitude. Let Ethiopia accept the Decision of the Commission as final and binding and not as one subject to any qualifications then and only then can peace come as a natural outcome.
Indeed it is good that Ethiopia is now ready to pay the dues it owes the Commission and is willing appoint Field Liaison Officers, however, it remains to be seen whether it will allow demarcation of the border to continue in a manner consistent with the Demarcation Directives of July 2002 or not. These directives have already been endorsed by the UN Security Council repeatedly and are binding. Allowing the Commission to continue with its work without any interference will be the only proof of Ethiopia’s “hypothetical” acceptance of the Decision of the Boundary Commission.

For the record Ethiopia had also told the world before that it had accepted the Decision of the Commission. Except at that time, unlike the latest one, its “acceptance” was unqualified or at least it sounded unequivocal and unambiguous. If that acceptance was later replaced by an explicit rejection and the Decision was declared “totally illegal, unjust and irresponsible” we have no reason this time to accept this latest declaration as anything different when they are still calling the Decision as “illegal and unjust”.

For comparison with the latest “acceptance in principle” here are the words of “acceptance” by Ethiopia’s Council of Ministers from April 13, 2002.
“…Accordingly, pursuant to the Algiers Agreement, the FDRE Government ACCEPTS AND IS READY TO IMPLEMENT THE LEGAL DECISION OF THE COMMISSION.…The Government of Ethiopia would like to take this opportunity to extend its regards to the Boundary Commission for discharging its duties with a sense of responsibility and great care. The Government of Ethiopia would also like to express its strong interest in the speedy demarcation of the boundary. In this respect, the FDRE Government would like to emphasize that the Eritrean Government should honor its obligation to cooperate in the demarcation process.”
Saying this we have to urge the diplomats that gave Ethiopia its latest phrase of "acceptance, in principle”, to still urge it to implement the Decision without further delay and any foot dragging. Here is what Chris Mullin, Britain's minister for Africa, had said a year ago, January 19, 2004: "We are looking to Ethiopia to accept the border decision in principle and enter into dialogue." Diplomats and Leaders of “principle”, should further tell Ethiopia it cannot have a “give and take” on a Decision that is final and binding. Accepting a final and binding Decision in principle is not enough. This gimmick of “accepting, in principle” should never be mistaken for unequivocal acceptance as the Algiers Agreement demands. Neither the people of Eritrea nor Ethiopia can afford another diplomatic deception by a regime that has never meant what it says in public.