By: Natsenet Mukur
November 30, 2004

Recently, in a slight change of rhetoric, the regime in Addis has boasted of coming with a “new peace initiative” aimed at creating “durable and sustainable peace” between Eritrea and Ethiopia. The regime has called upon the international community to support its proposal, and it has even started a diplomatic campaign to that end. A number of questions can be asked with respect to this so-called peace initiative. What is new about it? What is the predominant idea or theme of the proposal? Does the proposal address the key issues? Is the proposal serious and genuine, or simply another sarcasm? Are its details significant? Above all what is the true purpose or motive of the proposal? I will try to address some of these questions here.

Any peace proposal must be judged by its “value added” to the process of building and maintaining durable peace, and not but by its verbose and jargoneering. Seen from this perspective, the proposal is neither new nor innovative. The points listed in this so-called initiative are not different from the six-point proposal that Prime Minister Meles sent in a letter to the UN Security Council in September 2003. What is perhaps new is the fact that a two-page plain letter has been expanded and jargoneered into a ten-page document.

It looks the regime in Addis has not yet retreated from its strategy of attempting to neutralize and ultimately -if possible- abrogating the Algiers Agreement. In line with its previous strategy of stretching agreements between the “yes-maybe-no” continuum, as one Eritrean intellectual put it, it has successfully produced a document which is extremely vague, in spite of its verbiage. What it has actually done is that the “yes-maybe-no” this time is mixed into one concoction, for the single aim of maximizing the confusion so that the peace process as whole, and the demarcation of the boundary in particular, will be kept in a state of limbo for as long as possible. Let us look at the five points one by one.

1. Resolve the dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea only and only through peaceful means.

This is the same as the first point that PM Meles Zenawi sent in his letter to the UNSC on 19, September 2003. Settling disputes through peaceful means is the practice of civilized polities, but it was Melese’s governement that has been consistently engaged in the escalation and protraction of the conflict after it officially declared war on Eritrea in May 1998, and finally rejected a ruling it agreed to accept as final and binding. The call for peaceful resolution of disputes, therefore, although desirable and perfectly in line with civilized practices, does not tally at all with the conflict resolution regimes of Melese’s government. Indeed, the regime in Addis Ababa has always wanted the problem to linger and use it to trigger war when its war algorithm shows in its favor. Any ways, how can a government that rejects an agreement formulated to settle a dispute in a peaceful way be predisposed to settle disputes peacefully? Thus, the peace rhetoric is noting more than a maneuver intended to cause as maximum delay in demarcation as possible. If the conflict between the two countries is to be permanently resolved and “durable and sustainable peace” to be built and maintained, the Ethiopian regime must unequivocally accept the EEBC’s ruling and move towards its implementation. This is the only genuine and concrete step foreword towards “durable and sustainable peace”.

2. Resolve the Root Causes of the Conflict Through Dialogue With the View to Normalizing Relations Between the Two Countries.

Identifying the root causes of the war and addressing them through dialogue is an important prelude to the normalization of relations between the two countries. It is equally imperative for avoiding and/or managing similar incidents in the future. It was perhaps out of this conviction that the Algiers Agreement provided for the establishment of an independent body to study the root causes of the war. Article 3 of the Algiers Agreement is fully devoted to establishment of this body. The second paragraph of this article reads: “The investigation will be carried out by an independent, impartial body appointed by the Secretary General of the OAU, in consultation with the Secretary General of the United Nations and the two parties.” Because Ethiopia rejected the EEBC’s decisions, this body has not been established yet. Therefore, the first step foreword in this direction is the establishment of that body, so that the true causes of the war are studied in depth and identified. Once it completes its study and produces a report, the two countries can sit together and put in place mechanisms that will enable them to manage any potential issues of misunderstanding that may arise between them in the future. What the regime in Addis is asking now is that they should start talks on the root causes when the root causes have not been studies and identified yet. This implies that each country will come with its version of the root causes to the negotiating table. Any talk under such conditions can not proceed, and will simply be bogged down in accusation, counter accusations and endless bickering. Apart from adding bitterness to the prevailing situation, such an approach will never be able to resolve the root causes of the war. Thus, yes, dialogue to resolve the root causes of the war is imperative for lasting peace, but first let the neutral body to study the root causes of the war be established as per the Algiers Agreement, and allow it to do its job. Fruitful dialogue can only take place after that body will have reported i
ts findings. Thus, calling for a dialogue to resolve the root causes at this stage is calling for the very impractical, perhaps planned to encapsulate the peace process in a vicious circle of meaningless discussion.

3. Ethiopia Accepts, in Principle, the Ethiopia-Eritrea Boundary Commission Decision.

The vagueness and inconsistency of this statement, and the elaborations given under it, will not escape any one who has read the entire five-point proposal. The regime in Addis still calls the ruling given by the EEBC “unjust and illegal”, and yet claims to accept it “in principle”, whatsoever that means. It further points to the need to “making adjustment as and when necessary in the course of implementation”, on the basis of what it calls, “give and take” approach. The regime conveniently seems to forget, or rather deliberately sideline, the fact that both parties agreed to accept decisions as “final and binding”. If so, the EEBC’s decision must be unequivocally accepted as such, with out any qualifications. When the diplomatic community in Addis asked the Ethiopian Prime Minister what he meant by “in principle”, he was quoted as saying: “…accepting the decision, in principle, means coming down from high moral of rejecting the decision to less moral of accepting it by way of choosing between bad and worse”. It is a weird logic in which rejection of an international agreement is equated with high morale, and adherence to one’s obligations under international laws as low morale! It needs to be clear that the EEBC made its delimitation decisions on the bases of the colonial treaties, which form the legal bases of boundary lines in Africa, and which Ethiopia also presented as evidence to support its case, and hence, the only “legal and just” basis for demarcation is the EEBC’s delimitation ruling. Any deviation from this delimitation is illegal because it removes the legality of the boundary line, and can be contested any time in the future, as a boundary line that has no legal basis either in the colonial treaties or in the EEBC’s ruling. Moreover, some of the boundary lines are not amenable to “give and take” approach. A case in point is the straight-line boundary line between Mereb and Setit rivers. It is a fixed straight-line joining two junction points of four rivers – Setit and Mai Tomsa in the south and Mer
eb and Mai Anbessa in the north. It is so because of the Anglo-Italo-Ethiopian Convention signed on May 15,1902. Thus, any departures from the EEBC’s decision will open Pandora ’s Box that inevitably will become a source for unnecessary chimera in the future.

4. Ethiopia Agrees to Pay Its Dues to The Ethiopia-Eritrea Boundary Commission and to Appoint Field Liaison Officers.

Ethiopia’s decision to pay its share to the EEBC in no way posits the regime in Addis as peace-loving. This is something long overdue, and not only should Ethiopia pay its share, but should have, in fact, been penalized for its refusal to pay until now. Sir Elihu Lauterpacht, President of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission, reported in his Twelfth Report to the United Nations Security Council on 27 February 2004 that “Under article 4, paragraph 17, of the Algiers Agreement, the parties are required to bear the expenses of the Commission in equal shares, and deposits are accordingly required from the parties at regular intervals. Eritrea has paid its latest deposit, while Ethiopia, despite repeated reminders, has not. Accordingly the Commission has been unable to make payment on certain accrued expenses, and has no funds in hand to finance any renewed activity.” On the other hand appointing field liaison officers to assist in demarcation, when it is still insisting that demarcation will not take place unless the EEBC’s ruling is changed is nothing but one more card in its game to delay demarcation. In his briefing to the diplomatic community in Addis Ababa, the PM of Ethiopia made it clear that that there will be no demarcation without dialogue,“ in areas that could affect peace”. This makes it clear that the regime in Addis Ababa has not changed its position! It is still insisting dialogue on a final and binding ruling, and through it trying to neutralize and even nullify the whole Algiers Agreement.

5. Start Dialogue Immediately with the view to implementing the Ethiopia-Eritrea Boundary Commission's decision in a manner consistent with the Promotion or Sustainable Peace and Brotherly Ties between the Two Peoples

This is a delicate combination of points 4 and 6 of the earlier six-point proposal. The call for a swift dialogue on a boundary that has been legally determined by a neutral Commission, whose members were appointed by both countries, is nothing but a call for an alternative mechanism, as demanded earlier by the regime. However, this time it has gone one step further to set the agenda to suit it. It wants Eritrea to accept its two “key considerations” for the dialogue: “the acceptance by Ethiopia, in principle, of the decision of the Commission, on one hand, and adherence to the principle of give and take in the course of implementing the decision, on, the other”. Stated in plain language, it wants Eritrea to comply with its rejection of the EEBC’s ruling. Couched in diplomatic semantics, “acceptance, in principle” of the EEBC’s ruling, and the “principle of give and take”, is nothing but a stratagem intended to put Eritrea and the peace process in a trap from which there will never be a way out. It is an attempt to steer the whole peace process away from the right trajectory, until it completely blends with the regime’s desire.

Finally, if peace between the two countries is to prevail, and normal relations are to be restored, peace must be built around the following key points.
1) Commitment to the Algiers Agreement: Any peace initiative must comply with the framework and provisions of the Algiers Agreement. Producing parallel initiatives will only lead to the further complexification of the problem, and make it too intractable to be resolved.
2) Accept unequivocally the EEBC’s ruling, and move towards its implementation without any delay or preconditions. If both countries agree to modify the ruling during the demarcation process, then this can be legally recorded and the modification made. If either party disagrees to the modification proposed by the other party, then the demarcation must proceed as per the ruling of the EEBC.
3) Establish a neutral body to study the root causes of the war immediately. The study to be made by that body will enable the two countries understand better the events, dynamics, and incidents along their common border, so that they can design joint mechanisms for the management of conflict-bearing events and/or dynamics in the future.
4) Declare preparedness to pay compensations for the injustices that each party may have committed on non-combatant population during the war.
5) Abstain from direct and indirect interference in each other’s internal affairs.
6) Abstain from hostile propaganda that whoops hatred and confusion.
7) Develop a common agenda for future dialogue and/or negotiations.