Mr. Legwaila J. Legwaila - Amnesia, Distortion or Diplomatic Game?
By: Sophia Tesfamariam
April 9, 2004

Over the last couple of years, if you are like me, you have become cynical as you read the weekly UNMEE press briefings because they did not accurately reflect the situation on the ground. As a matter of fact, if you take the weekly press briefings and bundle them together, you can cut and paste to put together the quarterly reports of the UN Secretary General. These reports which are full of contradictions; they conveniently leave out the facts and present instead, deliberate distortions. In any case, considering that the April 1, 2004 was the first press briefing attended by Legwaila Joseph Legwaila since UNMEE's mandate was extended in March of 2004, I decided to read it in its entirety. I must say that I was pleasantly surprised. I got the sense that Mr. Legwaila had changed his tone and that this time he was more forthcoming about the facts as we know them.

In the past, as if Ethiopia (which is paying over $1 million per month for lobbying) needed an added spokesperson, Mr. Legwaila seemed to speak for the Tigrayan Prime Minister of Ethiopia. In July of 2003, he even went out of his way to tell us that Ethiopia would abide by the EEBC ruling. Here is what he said:

“Ethiopia has problems with some parts of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC) decision… It is also public knowledge that Ethiopia has reaffirmed its commitment time and again to pursue its disagreement with the Boundary Commission legally, that is, through the EEBC legal process…it is not the intention of Ethiopia to assert whatever demands it has against the Boundary Commission through a re-initiation of the conflict between it and Eritrea…"

I don't know if Legwaila was just testing the waters or if he was laying the foundation for the Tigrayan Prime Minister Melles Zenawi to challenge and reject the EEBC decision, because it was less than two months after he publicly vouched for Ethiopia, that the leader of the minority regime wrote the infamous September 19th , 2003 letter to Secretary General Kofi Annan wherein he called the independent Border Commissions' decision “totally illegal, unjust, and irresponsible” and then proceeded to insult the prominent Commissioners. But that was not all, contrary to Legwaila's statement, Melles Zenawi urged Mr. Kofi Annan “to set up an alternative mechanism”.

I don't think I need to write about what happened next, except to say that the UN Security Council and the Eritrea Ethiopia Border Commissioners both responded in their respective letters of October 3, 2003 and October 7, 2003 rejecting Melles Zenawi's views and assertions. Unfortunately, the Secretary General who had lived in Ethiopia for several years, and has Ethiopian advisors and friends did not do so. And we know what he did next. So much for Legwaila's vouching for the deceptive minority regime in Ethiopia!

Just for the record, contrary to what Mr. Legwaila insinuates, there is no such thing as an EEBC legal process that allows for the two parties to appeal or revisit the decision. After expensive and extensive deliberations, the Border Commission has delivered its final and binding decision on April 13, 2002. Both parties are treaty bound to accept and abide by the decision.

Mr. Legwaila, unlike his previous briefings, even though he distorted the main tenets of the Algiers Agreements, was crystal clear on most of the Articles enshrined in the agreements. In the April 1, 2004 briefing from Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General Legwaila Joseph Legwaila impressed me with his knowledge of the Eritrea Ethiopia Border Commission (EEBC), and the prevailing issues when he clearly stated:
• That the Eritrea Ethiopia Border Commissions decision is final and binding.
• That it is not Eritrea but rather Ethiopia, that has rejected the final and binding decision
• That demarcation is the sole responsibility of the EEBC
• That there will not be an “alternative mechanism”
• That the international community would not re-open the EEBC decision for re-negotiation.
• That Eritrea never asked Nigeria or Angola to mediate
• That the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, Mr. Gerhard Schroeder, during his visit to Addis Ababa also called on the Ethiopian government to implement the EEBC decision “before the Kingdom comes”.
• That UNMEE has created conditions along the border conducive for the demarcation of the border
Mr. Legwaila was even familiar with, and articulated well, the letter written by H.E. President Isaias Afwerki to all the 51(minus Ethiopia and himself) members of the African Union:

“…asking them to put pressure on Ethiopia to cooperate in the implementation of the decision of the Boundary Commission…”

In spite of the crystal clear statements made on April 1, 2004 which I have enumerated above, Mr. Legwaila, for reasons I don't know, call it amnesia, deliberate distortion or diplomatic game, knowing full well that Article 14 of the Algiers Agreement clearly stipulates that:

"…the OAU and the UN commit themselves to guarantee the respect for this commitment of the parties. This guarantee shall be comprised of measures to be taken by the international community should one or both parties violate this commitment, including appropriate measures to be taken under Chapter 7 of the Charter of the United Nations by the Security Council".

Mr. Legwaila goes on to say:

“…the stalemate is not the responsibility of UNMEE…the Security Council realizes that unless the Parties themselves decide to carry on with the implementation of the Agreements they signed in 2000, there will be no solution to their problem. In other words the peace process will collapse. If the Parties themselves, in pursuing their very best interests, are not prepared to cooperate with the Boundary Commission to demarcate the border, then the border will not be demarcated…because they cannot be forced to do what they do not want to do as sovereign states”

What a shame. Mr. Legwaila should not have made such an irresponsible statement. As a seasoned diplomat and UNMEE head he knows:
• That the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement was signed by Eritrea and Ethiopia in Algiers on June 18th, 2000 in the presence of heads of states and prominent individuals.
• That the Algiers Peace Agreement was signed by Eritrea and Ethiopia in Algiers in December 2000, in the presence of President Bouteflika of the Democratic Republic of Algeria, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, OAU Secretary General, Salem Ahmed Salem, and European Union Special Envoy, Renato Serri who also signed the Agreement as guarantors and witnesses. I don't think they traveled all the way to Algeria for a photo opportunity.
• That the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement signed by the parties on June 18, 2000 and the Agreement between the Government of the State of Eritrea and the Government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, signed on December 12, 2000 in Algiers are binding and complimentary, and they are often referred to by the UN Security Council as the Algiers Agreements.
• That when a sovereign territory of a sovereign nation is illegally occupied by another country, it is not left to the two parties to resolve the problem, that is why we have international law, that is why we have the UN Security Council and Chapter 7.
As I have stated before, Melles Zenawi's apartheid regime in Ethiopia has been emboldened not just by the international community's inaction, but also by the wrong and potentially dangerous political statements and views advanced by folks like Mr. Legwaila, who want to sideline or dilute international law, in a futile attempt to absolve Melles Zenawi and his minority regime of its legal obligations under international law and treaties.

Mr. Legwaila, we do not have a stalemate. What we have here is blatant disregard for international law by the Tigrayan minority regime and the reluctance of the UN Security Council to enforce its own resolutions and decisions by taking appropriate punitive actions against the culprit. The EEBC demarcation directives and orders which are already in place must be strictly adhered to and implemented without further delay. Eritrea has accepted the final and binding decision and is cooperating and abiding by the Border Commission's demarcation orders and directives. Therefore, it is Ethiopia that is obstructing the process, not Eritrea, and Mr. Legwaila you know it and you have said it. Eritrea has not done anything to stop the demarcation process from proceeding. By the way, expeditious demarcation of the border will save the UN the over $200 million dollars, that seem to be frustrating you!

Mr. Legwaila, after going all the way to international arbitration, and after the millions invested by the international community, instead of advising the UNSC to use all available legal enforcement instruments at its disposal, I hope you are not implying that they should slug it out. I hope you are not propagating “might is right”, and I hope you are not preaching that the law of the jungle must prevail over the rule of law.

Mr. Legwaila, as you well know, whether a country is big or small, under international law it does not have the right to occupy sovereign territory of another country by defying international law and UNSC guaranteed arbitration. In this case Ethiopia is occupying Badme and other sovereign Eritrean territories, thus making it not a bilateral issue, but rather one that must be handled by the UNSC and the international community.

The rule of law must prevail over the law of the jungle!