By: Dr. Haile M. Mezghebe
October 12, 2004

The catchy phrase "dialogue" has witnessed a great deal of "spin" recently. Dialogue is like motherhood and apple pie. We are all for it. However, dialogue as pronounced by the Ethiopian leadership and its co-horts has a sinister angle to it.

When Ethiopia declared war on Eritrea ( May 1998) around the issue of Badme, the Eritrean leadership pleaded for dialogue and for round table discussions to resolve the crisis. Numerous delegations including former Peace Corps volunteers, a team of Ethiopian and Eritrean civilians and others pleaded with Prime Minister Melles Zenawi to engage in dialogue. Mr. Zenawi categorically refused to do so. Three rounds of war and massive human carnage and material devastations later, both parties signed the Algiers Peace Agreement empowering an independent Arbitration Commission to delimit and demarcate the border including the 15% of the disputed border area which supposedly precipitated the war in the first place. Both parties agreed to accept and respect the decision as final and binding.

After Ethiopia squandered the opportunity to dialogue, prolonged litigation culmunating by an internationally supervised legal decision and a verdict followed. Therefore, the issue at hand is not dialogue with Eritrea any longer but the implementation of the final and binding legal verdict and adherence to the rule of law.

In his presentation to the 59th Session of the UN Assembly, the Ethiopian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Seyoum Mesfin advocated for an "open ended dialogue to resolve the "controversy in the demarcation of the 15% of the common boundary." It is the height of absurdity at this juncture (long after a legal and binding verdict that has been accepted by both parties) for any one to suggest a revisit of an area of "controversy" that was the cornerstone of Ethiopia's justification to declare war. What is even more absurd is the cheerleading activities of the UN and other guarantors of the Algiers Peace Accord in support of Ethiopia's request for such an insincere and hollow request for dialogue.

Why are these parties engaging in activities that eclipse and down right sabotage the EEBC decision? Why are they trying to shove a Special Envoy without a clear mandate down the throat of Eritrea and its people? Why was this Special Envoy appointed after Ethiopia's out right rejection of the EEBC ruling (Ethiopia later softened its tone by requesting for a “new mechanism")? One can not help but make a connection between this request for a "new mechanism and the appointment of the Special Envoy. Clearly, Mr. Axeworthy, the Special Envoy is an honorable man but what is his mandate? What legal basis does he have to reopen a final and binding decision that has already been endorsed by both parties and by the guarantors of the Algiers Peace Agreement? The Eritrean leadership and its people yearn for normalization of relations on all fronts with their neighbor. Normalization of relations is a natural process and the people of Eritrea pray daily for this to occur as soon as possible. But first and foremost, the UN and the international community must persuade Ethiopia o uphold the rule of law and to abide by its treaty obligations so that a foundation can be laid and a meaningful dialogue and normalization of relations can begin in earnest.

The massive humanitarian, economic and military aid to Ethiopia must be linked to its adherence to the rule of law. The issue of "dialogue" and Special Envoy as are currently framed are a clear reflection of the UN's abdication of its legal duties and failure of the international community to shoulder its responsibility to implement the rule of law.

The Ethiopian minority regime now operates with the calculation that the international community will never apply rhetorical pressure let alone economic sanctions as dictated by the Algiers Agreement. Therefore, it will continue on its current path of creating a complex web of issues and endless twisted negotiations that are guaranteed to perpetuate regional hostilities and poverty. In the end, this can only lead to disastrous results. The best interests of the people of Ethiopia and Eritrea and indeed that of the west will not have been served by taking such a politically expedient but morally and legally bankrupt approach.

Eritrea has accepted the EEBC ruling in the demarcation process without any reservations but Ethiopia has rejected it. There is nothing ambiguous about the course of action that must taken. The Ethiopian leadership must be pressured to abide by the rule of law and allow for immediate demarcation of the common border.

Yes, it is high time for "dialogue". However, the dialogue must be between Ethiopia and the UN as well as with the international community.