Abstract from a debate held in the British House of Lords (On Eritrea - Ethiopia)
By: Simon Marcos
February 26, 2004

Abstract From Debate Held in The British House of Lords



“My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that the reason why the Eritreans declined to accept a visit by Mr Lloyd Axworthy is that it is not they who are responsible for incursions into the temporary security zone; that it is not they who have failed to create the necessary conditions for demarcation to proceed; and that it is not they who have failed to co-operate fully and promptly with the boundary commission? In view of the Ethiopians' continued non-compliance with the Security Council resolution, does not she think that a threat to peace exists that should now be referred to the Security Council under chapter 6 of the charter?”


Lord Avebury,

House of Lords, February 2004



Lord Rea asked Her Majesty's Government:


What further steps can be taken by the United Nations Security Council to persuade Ethiopia to accept the ruling of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Border Commission to which Ethiopia agreed when it signed the comprehensive peace agreement in Algiers in December 2000.


The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, the United Kingdom and other members of the Security Council will continue to press Ethiopia and Eritrea to accept the boundary commission decision and begin a political dialogue. We welcome the appointment of the United Nations special envoy, Lloyd Axworthy, and urge both parties to work with him on resolving their differences.


Lord Hylton: My Lords, can the Minister say what progress has been made in demarcating the frontier and whether this process also involved an element of arbitration in places where the frontier was in dispute? Furthermore, can she give us any good news about the return of prisoners and refugees by both sides which must surely help to build trust and confidence?


Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I fear that the stand-off between the two countries at the moment does not allow me to give the good news that the noble Lord requests. I wish I could give him such news. I can only reiterate that this is a highly unsatisfactory situation. The Ethiopians have refused to accept the findings of the boundary commission. The United Nations has put in an envoy whom we hope will be able to bring the two sides together, but the Eritreans are currently refusing to deal with him. The boundary commission found in favour of the Eritreans, as the noble Lord knows, but at the moment, the area particularly around Badame—which is the area principally under dispute, and where there are about a thousand people living—is in considerable difficulty.

I return to my main point—that the envoy has to be given the opportunity to discuss the borders, the future of Badame and the important question that the noble Lord has raised in relation to prisoner exchange.


Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, would the Minister agree that this dispute in the Badame region goes back a long way, certainly to the time of Mussolini and probably before that, and that there has been a long string of undertakings and agreements—the US-Rwanda peace plan; UN Resolution 1226; as well as the Algiers agreement that we are talking about? Would she accept that it is going to take a lot to persuade the Ethiopians to come into line with the boundary commission, but that it is worth while persisting very hard, because last time the matter turned into violence with 100,000 lives being lost. We want no repeat of that.


Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Yes, my Lords; I agree that it has been a dispute of very long-standing. Sadly, many disputes of long-standing duration become intractable over a period of time. It is obvious

that both sides view the Badame area as part of their own country. We have consistently stressed to the Ethiopians, at prime ministerial and ambassadorial level both in Addis Ababa and in New York, that we believe that the decision of the boundary commission is final and binding. However, it is now for the Ethiopian Prime Minister to persuade his government, his party, and his people that they must accept the boundary commission's findings. However, I am sure that he will face an uphill task in doing so, as my noble friend Lord Rea indicated in his initial supplementary.


The Duke of Montrose: My Lords, would it be wrong to presume that the Minister is familiar with the concept of horse-trading? I wonder whether the Ethiopian Government is taking up the position in the hope that they can gain some advantage, particularly from third parties who are interested to see peace in the area. Have the Government any idea what they might be looking for?


Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I used to be the general secretary of a trade union. Therefore, I do know a little about horse-trading, one way or another. I cannot read what the Ethiopian Government are looking for. Quite often, in these sorts of border disputes, individuals think that by not coming to an agreement they have more to gain as time goes on—for example, as more and more Ethiopians come into the area in dispute, the idea is that their claims will be strengthened by people on the ground. That may be some of the thinking behind what has gone on, but that is speculation. We have to allow Mr Axworthy to bring both sides together. It will not be an easy task, but we must afford him the opportunity to try to fulfil the remit that he has been given by the United Nations.