Extracts from President Isaias Afwerki’s New Year Address
December 31, 2003
The full version can be viewed here.

After the TPLF’s war against Eritrea at the end of the 2nd millennium - unparalleled in Africa in terms of the ensuing destruction to human lives and property - was resolved through legal process of the Boundary Commission in 2002, our expectation was that year 2003 would be a year in which justice and the rule of law would prevail, and our sovereign borders would be demarcated in accordance with the ruling of the Boundary Commission, leading to the healing of the wounds of war and enabling us to enter a new era of comprehensive peace. Unfortunately, our hopes are yet to be fulfilled due to the TPLF regime’s arrogant rejection of the Boundary Commission’s verdict, and the negligence of the international community,.

Our current history as an independent and sovereign nation, and the preceding periods of struggle, have bequeathed us great and unforgettable lessons and impressions. Before the advent of colonialism which initiated the process of nation-state formation, it is a fact of history that in the 19th century there was an emergent drive towards self-governance in Eritrea which was crushed through tyranny and the conspiracy of betrayal. Eritrea, after 60 years of Italian colonial rule, should have attained full independence and sovereignty like all the rest of African nation-states which were formed as a result of colonialism. However, this was aborted because of the pressure of the then prevailing global strategic interests and the conspiracy of betrayal, which forced Eritrea to pass through 10 years of British colonial rule, leading to forcible federation, which finally culminated in Eritrea becoming the sacrificial lamb to Ethiopia’s rule. The era of Emperor Haile Selassie’s rule made repeated attempts to crush the just struggle of the Eritrean people; not through its own power and capacities but through the support of the US super-power and some quislings. But it failed in this endeavor and was finally overthrown. It was followed by the Dergue’s rule, which also tried to crush the just struggle of the Eritrean people with the support of the former Soviet super-power and some lackeys. In this, the Dergue not only failed and was defeated, but the era of colonialism was finally over in Eritrea. Thus, Eritrea was liberated and its sovereignty affirmed; not through charity or by permission, but through international rule of law.

As if the process of liberation was yet to be finished, the TPLF regime, which had set the establishment of a friendly relationship with the Eritrean struggle as one of its main political agendas, reneged on its pledge, and aborted the new and robust relationship that should have developed between the Eritrean and Ethiopian people. Using Badme as a pretext, and in order to alleviate its own internal crisis by projection, it followed a path of war and destruction. Currently it has rejected the legal ruling of the Boundary Commission and embarked on yet another adventure of delaying tactics. The TPLF’s reckless acts of belligerence and its futile attempts to violate our sovereignty were not based on its own resources and capabilities, but rather on the intervention and encouragement of outside forces and their agents. Likewise, the current stance of the TPLF that we are witnessing now is not based on its own internal capabilities and self-confidence, but rather on the aid and tacit support of major powers. This support is not only in the form of political nurturing and indulgence, but also direct economic and indirect military aid and subsidy.

Esteemed Eritrean Citizens,

Confident that truth will ultimately triumph, we have been, and still continue to engage in legal endeavors, before considering other options, to secure justice by confronting the relentless machinations of the TPLF and its collaborators to subvert them. As elaborated on various political, diplomatic and media occasions, we can once again highlight those attempts that have been going on to subvert truth and justice:

1) “The decision of the Boundary Commission is final and binding. This cannot be denied. Nevertheless, why do you not engage in dialogue (essentially what the TPLF is asking for) ?”

These are, indeed, impressive and attractive words and ideas! But the question must be asked, “dialogue” on what?

To delay by entering into “dialogue” what has already been settled in a legal court is to trample on the agreements that have already been signed, violate the rule of law, and discard the arbitration process altogether. This can only lead to a vicious cycle of perpetual conflict. At a time when our sovereign territories remain occupied by force, this alternative is clearly unthinkable, both politically and more so legally. It is thus self- evident that there cannot be “dialogue” on the decision of the Boundary Commission. And, if this is the case, then “dialogue” on what?

2) It is at times stated that both sides should engage in “dialogue not on the final and binding ruling of the Boundary Commission, but rather in order to avoid conflict or the re-ignition of war after demarcation”. This is presumably prompted by the desire to placate the TPLF’s aggressive posturing.

Again, we need to ask, on what pretext can conflict or war be ignited once the border is demarcated? On the part of Eritrea, once the border is demarcated there can be no rationale, internal or external, that can lead to conflict. On the contrary, as the legally unjustifiable pretext of the border dispute, which pitted the Eritrean and Ethiopian people against each other, is removed, border demarcation can only lead towards the opening of doors for normalization and not be a cause to instigate conflict. If the TPLF has any undeclared grievances that may lead to war after demarcation, then they must be unveiled now. To demand “dialogue first,” while forcibly occupying sovereign Eritrean territory, engaging in saber rattling, and continuing to hold the demarcation processes hostage, is like putting the cart before the horse. As such, it cannot have any legal justification and political significance whatsoever.

3) It has also been claimed that “there should be dialogue as a confidence-building measure and in order to normalize relations.”

How can mutual trust be fostered while the Boundary Commission’s verdict and the rule of law are violated; our sovereign territory is invaded; border demarcation is obstructed; and while the tears of the Eritrean and Ethiopian peoples have not been wiped away and the wounds of war not healed yet? And how could bilateral relations be normalized under such circumstances? If international agreements and the rule of law are respected and the border is accordingly demarcated, then confidence building measures and normalization are effects that would follow immediately. To demand “dialogue” as a confidence-building measure and for restoring normalization while the border is undemarcated is tantamount to sanctioning the violation of justice and the rule of law this is neither acceptable nor practical.

4) It has also been claimed that “there should be dialogue on economic cooperation and the use of ports by Ethiopia.”

This claim is not substantively different from the one on confidence-building measures and normalization. Again, this cannot be forwarded as a precondition or imposition. But rather, it should be undertaken to fulfill the common economic interests of the peoples of Eritrea and Ethiopia. It should be viewed as an issue of trade and exchange of services that is governed by the rules of the market. It is to be remembered that the Government and the people of Eritrea had rendered subsidized port services to Ethiopia from 1991 up to the period of the unilateral declaration of war by the TPLF regime. They have also offered the free use of port services in the past five years of famine in Ethiopia based on their goodwill, which was rejected by the TPLF regime. There is no doubt that the Government and people of Eritrea would open up the market of port services for mutual interests, once agreements and the rule of law are respected and the border demarcated. This situation is no different than the use of the ports of Port Sudan, Djibouti, Berbera and Mombassa by Ethiopia without it having to declare war on those countries. Thus, this claim cannot have any direct relationship with the decision of the Boundary Commission and border demarcation. The same applies for economic and commercial cooperation.

5) “How about partial border demarcation”, i.e., accepting only parts of the Boundary Commission’s ruling?

To accept half of the Boundary Commission’s ruling and reject the other half means nothing else but rejecting the entire ruling. It also means entering into an endless vicious cycle and complications without having resolved the main issue. This is legally and morally unacceptable as it means holding the Eritrean and Ethiopian peoples hostage by plunging them into an endless cycle of tension.

6) There is also the puzzle that “once the border is demarcated it may lead to the problem of displacement of Ethiopians around Badme.”

It is rather strange as to what logic and moral argument would require us to have the issue of a few hundreds of people, who have been resettled under invasion, to be a problem and relate it to the issue of justice and sovereignty of the Eritrean people, while no attention is paid to the predicament of the hundreds of thousands of Eritreans victimized by forcible expulsion and displacement; while the international community continues to feed close to 14 million Ethiopians; while 200 million dollars of annual budget is allocated for 5,000 peacekeepers; and while the TPLF regime is conducting resettlement programs inside Ethiopia with the help of foreign aid?

7) There is also the cynical claim that dialogue should be held “until the TPLF conducts its elections.” This is nothing but a delaying tactic aimed at diluting the issue. It has no legal or practical connection with the ruling of the Boundary Commission and the border issue.

8) The TPLF regime has up to now been openly stating it will never contemplate dialogue unless there is “regime change in Eritrea”. If it is seeking “dialogue’ now for tactical purposes, this can only betray its cynical nature.

Esteemed fellow citizens,

The various and constantly shifting excuses that have been forwarded day-in day-out by the TPLF, its sponsors and their agents, have been exposed in time and are no longer hidden from the world. We can also expect other new excuses. All, however, have one and clear objective: The short-term objective of the TPLF is to gain PR advantages by presenting itself as seeking “dialogue” while presenting Eritrea as rejecting “dialogue”. Also, and related to this, it aims to create confusion and complications causing the issue to be diverted, wearing out the world’s attention and thus buying time. The TPLF’s long term objective is dependent on the success of the short term objective, which would enable the TPLF to subvert legality and evade the final and binding ruling of the Border Commission. This endless vicious cycle would ultimately create sufficient pretexts for war to victimize Eritrea once again, and thereby provide the TPLF regime diversion from the internal problems facing Ethiopia that it has created in the first place.

It comes as no surprise, therefore, to see sponsors of the TPLF regime and its agents become active once again at distorting our legal case, gagging our mouth, and trying to confuse, under the guise of “human rights”, the timely measures taken by the Government of Eritrea to ensure its national security with upholding demarcation and implementation of the decision of the Boundary Commission. These same forces have previously failed in their attempts to saw discord in our ranks.

Dear compatriots,

As I have previously explained, we will relentlessly continue our endeavors to ensure our legal sovereign rights until all avenues are exhausted whereby the rule of law is respected and our border demarcated in accordance with the Boundary Commission’s ruling. Other options, which are shelved temporarily, cannot be ruled out indefinitely. It is obviously unthinkable that we will indulge, for an indefinite period of time, in a game of legal attrition and accept the forcible occupation of our sovereign territories.