Can Eritrea Engage in a dialogue with an unengaging Ethiopian regime?
By: Lambros Kyriakos
December 6, 2004

Much PR has been used the last two years by Ethiopia with the pretext of dialogue with Eritrea as a means of resolving the Ethiopian non-compliance with the EEBC decisison. But can Eritrea engage in a dialogue with an unengaging party? Can Eritrea really consider the notion of a dialogue when the Ethiopian side remains defaint towards the implementation of the verdict of the Algiers agreement and consequently the EEBC decision. Can a party engage in a dialogue with someone not willing to implement the already pre-agreed? When Eritreans are witnessing a repetition of Ethiopian politics and diplomacy, similar to the era of pre-federation, forcible annexation and occupation by Ethiopia, are Eritreans really going to ignore the reputation of Ethiopian politics expansionist attitude towards Eritrea?

After signing a treaty in 2000 and going through various characterization on the nature and resolution of an international court that gave the final decision (EEBC) now the gov't of Ethiopia is requesting to return to the negotiation table with Eritrea with new preconditions.

The core of the request which comes in the form of a unilateral proposal named "Peace initiative" is to ignore the details of what was agreed in Algiers and the fact that it was pre-agreed not to be negotiable. The decision is final and binding and the UN, US, AU, EU and Algeria are the guarantors.

The Ethiopian govt's request essentially is to disolve the previous agreement and accept the ambiguous terms of the new proposal, as dialogue on everything, take the whole package or not and an unspecified give and take.

Given the fact that the war erupted over a small tiny area called Badme the proposal seems to include more issues of disagreement and potential conflict than the actual declaration of invasion in 1998 in a territory that, now, the Ethiopian gov't has decided to call disputed. It is to be recalled that Ethiopia declared the same area sovereign Ethiopian land and following that declaration in 1998 waged a two year war against Eritrea.The paradoxy is that today the PM of Ethiopia states that the war declared by him was over few hundred meters maximum one or two kilometers ("Resolving the issues of a few meters here and a few hundred meters there, at most one or two kilometers; is not going to be an insurmountable task", PM Meles Reuters 03/12/04).

What is also being witnessed is an attempt to fake the acceptance of the EEBC decison and defy the decision during the implementation. The new proposal presents with more paradoxy when in an attempt to dictate the rules and stand above the international law defines as a prerequisite the acceptance of the whole package by Eritrea (no 85% and 15% percent) it must be accepted in its entity". It is also a "binding" proposal because the Ethiopian regime does not accept any other solution except for the one that is proposing .

Essentially it is enticing peace with a prolonged wait and see, no details of implementation, predicted to be infinite, no guarantors and no time-frame. The essence of what was agreed and signed in the Algiers agreement, the legality of the international court have all disappeard and above the law is the unilateral so-called "Peace initiative".

The various conflicting statements and positions the Ethiopian regime in Addis Ababa has taken have certainly puzzled any close observers to the recent conflict. The whole dispute that led to one of the worse recent African wars with close to 200.000 dead, an extensive amount of destruction and at the end required the involvement and guarantee of the most powerful of the world in order to be resolved, was declared by Meles in 1998 "over few meters" according to him. Are these new proposals and comments any different than the old reputation of Ethiopian politics in Eritrea? PM Meles's comments may be adjusted to the level of ignorance of the unfamiliar observer, but are these historic repetitions of "my proposal is the rule of law" going to help Eritrea engage in a "Dialogue" . The proposal lacks the genuinity of a peace initiative no mater how much paraphrased is, in order to look like "peace ".

Is this a potential solution or a complication? The attempt to alter the EEBC decision under the pretext of "Peace Proposal" can be equivalent of opening the pandora's box. No matter the content of sweet words that comes with a precondition of "all or nothing" and "you must understand justice the way I want ", the proposal doesn't provide the comfort of calling it, a solution. The most effective confidence-building measure between the two nations and the most accurate expression of the spirit of the Algiers Agreement is to expedite implementation of the EEBC decision unequivocally, with no further delays that are causing distrust and holding hostages both peoples.

Is this a complication?The metaforic, diplomatic language of Mr.Meles can't hide a simple reality of his "peace initiative".

PM Melles has presented himself on the course of six years with different versions of the same truth that according to him can exist at the same time. Accepted, not accepted, rejected, in crisis, illegal, iresponsible, unjust, accepted in primciple but lacking the principle of implementation. All these for the same decision that was agreed, signed and was final and binding.

Is the new proposal an offer of an olive branch to Eritrea under the threat of a stick? Is the word "dialogue" being used by the Ethiopian regime as a code word meaning surender to by expansionist power?Is this a time ploy to get ready for a war? Is this similar to what Ethiopia did with the non-amendable Framework Agreement, the Modalities of Implementation and Technical Arrangements in 1999 and then went to war six moths later ?What is behind the olive branch proposal ?How many other versions of the same truth is going to discover in the future the proposing side? Is Ethiopia preparing the ground for future military interventions? If the peace initiative is genuine why rename non -compliance, "Peace initiative"? Is the sweet word that was lacking from the political arena or the political will to implement a decision with concrete action and no precondition?

The deliberate missapprehension of the EEBC decision continues with no regrets and ignoring totaly the final and binding nature of the agreement signed. Addis Ababa continues to call the decision unjust and illegal. Still the phrases,"We can't divide a household into half" are being used to misguide the international community.The fact that there are 60.000 IDP in Eritrea not able to return to their homes was not an issue on the peace proposal. For the sake of peace, new resettlments on what was renamed by Ethiopia to "contested areas" was not in the content of the "peace proposal". The so-called peace proposal had no a single reference of the 80.000 Eritrean deportees from Ethiopia. Wouldn't a real peace proposal include a reconciliatory tone that can enhance the prospect of healing the wounds of the past. And finally acceptance "in principle" does not equal to full compliance as stated on the Algeris agreement. Can all this Ethiopian elusiveness encourage Eritrea to engage in a "Dialogue" . How much appealing can be a proposal conformed to sound "like peace" but lacks any genuinity and doesn't hide the expansionist attitude of the past.

"My views and proposals are the law" can be a very dangerous logic. This is what can be also heard from this proposal. "This is only what we can implement, we are unable to comply with the EEBC decision, take it or leave it", can also imply that now, that I have loudly "spoken" to the world any future military events will be blamed on the other side.

On the other side Eritrea still remains in full compliance with the decision of the Boundary Commission. The gov't of Eritrea has been very consistent with his duties to accept and implement the decision. The give and take has never been implied and the Eritrean gov't never asked for modifications. As in the case of Hanish Islands with Yemen for the sake of peace and speedy implementation the whole package was accepted and implemented despite some disagreements from the Eritrean side.

Accept in principle and implement with principle to restore some credibility, trust and proceed to dialogue and peace.

A peace proposal is being used to mask a request for entering a process of renegotiation. Any kind of dialogue requires restoration of trust. Restoration of trust in this case means implementation of pre-agreed. With no trust and confidence, in what kind of dialogue can two parties engage? Basic prerequisite of dialogue is mutual trust. Mutual trust comes from concrete positive action and not an ambiguous notion of acceptance in principle of a very specific agreement and resolution.

The Ethiopian gov't is proposing to disregard the International Court boundry commision decision and trust the notion, of "in principle acceptance". Some rashed to congratulate without examining thoroughly.The AU didn't even wait to hear the prespective of the proposal from the other side involved . Surprisingly the AU has been silent for a long time, even when the Eritrean seat at the AU was being vacated from the frustration of AU's inaction.

Where is the necessary trust between the two parties going to come from in order to engage in a creative dialogue? What can restore trust and create a positive political climate? Does the flactuating language of "acceptance" and "legality" of EEBC decision by the Ethiopian gov't allow to build the required confidence? What are the confidence building measures that will guarantee this dialogue? The fact is, that the longer it takes to implement the EEBC decision more distrust is being created towards the non-implementig party. Eritreans, politicians and ordinary people, question the fact that if the EEBC decision is not respected with its legality, all it's sophistication, detail and having as guarantors the most powerfull in the world, what guarantees that any future agreement is going to be respected and implemented? Is it safe and prudent to open the pandora's box by disregarding what is, as solid, as an International Court decision?

The attempt to use the notion of a "peace proposal" to unilaterally alter an already agreed and signed treaty can only be understood as reconfirmation of the rejection of the boundry commission decision by the Ethiopian regime. As it was previously noted by the Boundry Commission, this is an attempt to reopen the substance of the April 2003 decision. It is a futile attempt to reject the EEBC decision, that has been defined, as just, by the highest international judicial court and cannot simultaneously be called unjust, illegal, in crisis, irresponsible, acceptaple in principle but unacceptable in implementation. The Ethiopian gov't is insisting:"Accept justice the way we understand it". Accept in principle, dishonor in practice, is not a genuine notion of peace. The inability to comply with the decision of the boundry commission doesn't entitle any of the parties involved to unilateraly define what is acceptable or not.

The metaforic, allegoric, eloqeunt diplomatic language of Mr.Melles can't hide a simple reality of his "peace initiative".

The use of so many versions of the same truth accepted , not accepted, rejected, in crisis, illegal, iresponsible, unjust, unable to comply, accepted in principle but lacking the principle of implementation gives primarly an elusive picture of the Ethiopian stand towards the agreements that have signed in Algiers in 2000. All these characterization are for the same decision that was agreed, signed and was final and binding.

A non-speedy implementation of the EEBC decision, ignoring details of the signed agreement, acceptance only in principle, prolongation of the cost to keep the peacekeepers in the region and holding hostage development and essentially the people of both countries, will only frustrate efforts for peace. Ignoring the international law or faking the acceptance of it, will increase distrust between the two parties and will impair the ability to create a healthy political climate for future dialogue and peace. The impairing factor for trust and permanent peace is not laid on the ground around the border areas. The memory of practices of occupation in Eritrea, the attitude of an arrogant diplomatic language identical to the era of forcible annexation and occupation of Eritrea by Ethiopia, the all the way declaration of war by Ethiopia over a negotiable issue in 1998, the actions of the Ethiopian gov't and notions of the opposition to ingnore the international law and add claims over claims, in a very expansionist attitude, have created a climate of distrust.

In order to heal the wounds of the past and restore trust, an unconditional implementation of the EEBC decision and respect of the rule of law is the least expected from an ex-occupier . If the memories of the past are being renewed by the expansionist attitude, if the regime in Addis Ababa still lacks the political will of implementing the EEBC decision, for ordinary Eritreans the consistent message are hearing from the regime in Ethiopia is not the so-called proposal of "peace" . The message that is more consistently coming from Addis Ababa to the people of Eritrea is a reconfirmation that, the regime in Ethiopia is defaintly an unengaging partner in a dialogue for real peace.

It would be wiser for the guarantors and mediators to use more cautiousness when directly or indirectly imply or act in a way that the EEBC decision can be altered and international law can be modified to accomodate one or the other party. The consequences of such a notion can be detrimental to the region. It is up to the two governments and the people of both countries to maintain peace, but it is up to the guarantors of the Algiers agreement to live up to their moral and legal obligation to ensure that justice will be done by advocating for an unequivocall acceptance and implementation of the ruling of the independent commission.

The challenge is enormous and for Eritreans the answer is to stay united and challenge, in unity, the known and hidden risks of this ambiguous notion. It is imperative to support the Eritrean people and gov't on this unequivocally important National Issue. It is also important to support reconstuction and economic activity and it is extremely importamt not to forget during these times, those that fall in between the cracks and usually get forgoten during the crisis, the needy, the martyrs' families, the orphans, the sick, the disabled, the families that have their only helpers working for the common good and for the benefit of every Eritrean.

Unity of the Eritrean People is more than ever the requirment of the times