As students of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University, members of the Pax et Bellum Journal team were recently discussing different conflicts that we have examined throughout our previous study – during this discussion it became apparent that while we could list quite a few, there are still numerous current and historic conflict we know fairly little about. As a result, we decided that at the end of every week, one person would present a chosen conflict. While these ‘conflict briefs’ are only meant to give a short overview of current and historical conflicts, we decided to share these ‘briefs’ in weekly blog posts – starting with the non-violent conflict between Taiwan and China.
The articles published do not reflect any stance taken by the organization Pax et Bellum; they only reflect that of the author. If you have any questions or comments please email us (firstname.lastname@example.org).
In 1974, following a coup d’etat that ousted the communist party of the “the Derg” government, Ethiopia was ruled by a pro-Soviet military Junta that based itself within the Marxist-Leninist doctrine (Uppsala Conflict Data Program [UCDP], n.d.). Following the change in power, internal resistance against the Junta in the country started a civil war between 1976 and 1991. During this intrastate conflict the Junta leader Mengistu was forced to flee the country in mid-1991 due to the force of the EPRDF (Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front) (Gebreselassie, 2019). The EPRDF seized power with the help of Eritrean separatists, who in return asked for a referendum to gain independence from Ethiopia (Gebreselassie, 2019; Institute for Policy Studies [IPS], 2005). In 1993, Eritrea became a separate state following secession from Ethiopia. From 1993 to the end of the 1990s, the relations between the countries stayed on relatively good terms (UCDP, n.d.).
The 1998 War
The war is often compared to the first world war due to its similarity in military tactics; the Ethiopian forces would run through mine filled landscapes, while being shot at, in order to break the line of the Eritrean forces (UCDP, n.d.).
In 1997, Eritrea introduced its own currency. This marked the start of deteriorating relations between the two states as Ethiopia refused to accept the currency (IPS, 2005). In retaliation, Eritrea banned Ethiopian officials from entering or staying in the country (UCDP, n.d.). In the 1993 independence deal, the official borders between the states were not clearly marked; an interstate conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia broke out at the end of the 1990s due to a border dispute (UCDP, n.d.). The area around the villages of Badme, Zela Ambessa-Egla, and Burrie, which was in control of Ethiopia, was occupied by Eritrean forces, claiming it as their own (UCDP, n.d.). As both states were unable to resolve the border dispute, the conflict escalated into a war; causing 98,217 confirmed battle related deaths (UCDP, n.d.).
After several clashes at the border, Eritrea started to use its air force to conduct bombings, resulting in further escalation of the conflict. In June 1998, as the violence decreased, Eritrea was at a military advantage (UCDP, n.d.). However, since it was commonly accepted that Eritrea had started the war and, thus, violated international law, the international community sided with Ethiopia (UCDP, n.d.). The period of relative calmness that followed allowed both states to regroup and invest millions in their military forces. In 1999, the war continued with Ethiopia taking Badme back with the use of force. This was followed by a second offensive in April 2000, causing Eritrea to lose all of its newly gained territory in addition to parts of its territory (IPS, 2005).
Several rounds of negotiations occurred between 1998 – 2000 in order to bring the conflict to a peaceful end. The first rounds of talks commenced in 1998. Previously, Ethiopia had refused to negotiate, demanding Eritrea to retreat from the disputed territory. The talks of 1998 were mediated by the Organization of African Unity, with support from Rwanda and the USA (UCDP, n.d.). In mid-1999, two of the three negotiated agreements were signed. However, the third one, detailing the implementation of the other two, was not accepted. In the beginning of May 2000, negotiations resumed – these failed as the parties could not agree on the implementation of a ceasefire (UCDP, n.d.).
Following the offensive of Ethiopian later in 2000, a third round of negotiations took place in Algiers. As a result of this round of negotiations, it was agreed in December of the same year that the hostilities would not be resumed, and an independent committee would decide on a permanent border (Crisisgroup, 2005; UCDP, n.d.). This committee, independent from the actors and the UN, was named the Boundary Commission and seated in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague. In 2001, a demilitarized zone between the two countries was established under the supervision of the United Nations (UN), called the UNMEE (UN, n.d.). In 2002, the Boundary Commission had made a decision regarding the border but failed to make a decision regarding the disputed village of Badme. In 2003, the commission finally concluded that Badme was to be given to Eritrea; the decision was rejected by Ethiopia (Crisisgroup, 2005).
In 2004, the Ethiopian parliament voted to accept the ruling of the commission, however, only if Eritrea would agree to meet for talks. Eritrea did not agree; causing the implementation of the agreement to fail once again (Crisisgroup, 2005; UCDP, n.d.). In 2005, tensions heightened as both states moved troops to the border region. In addition, due to deteriorating relations between Eritrea and the UN, the UN peacekeeping forces were moved to Ethiopia (Crisisgroup, 2005; UCDP, n.d.). Then, in 2006, Eritrea moved forces into the military buffer zone increasing tensions. Relations between the two countries further broke down due to the involvement of Ethiopia in the conflict in Somalia (Crisisgroup, 2005; UCDP, n.d.).
In 2007, the Border Commission ceased to exist despite no border demarcation having been implemented. In 2008, the UNMEE was disbanded due to the deteriorated relations between Eritrea and the UN (UCDP, n.d.; UN, n.d.). Eventually, in 2016, fighting resumed for two days – the number of casualties remains unclear (UCDP, n.d.).
Finally, in 2018, due to a change in the political climate in Ethiopia, with newly elected President Abiy Ahmed Ali, the initial proposal of the border commission was accepted. In September 2018, a peace treaty, named ‘Agreement on Peace, Friendship and Comprehensive Cooperation Between the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and the State of Eritrea’, was signed between the leaders of both states (Gebreselassie, 2019).
President Abiy Ahmed Ali was awarded the Noble Peace Prize in 2019 in recognition of his involvement in promoting a peaceful settlement to the long-lasting border tensions and his continued efforts to normalize the relationship between Ethiopia and Eritrea.
Source Image: http://hornofafrica.de/eritrea-foiled-ethiopias-no-peace-no-war-strategy-ii/
Crisisgroup (2005). Ethiopia and Eritrea Preventing War. Retrieved from: https://www.crisisgroup.org/africa/horn-africa/ethiopia/ethiopia-and-eritrea-preventing-war
Gebreselassie, (2019). Between Peace and Uncertainty after Ethiopia-Eritrea deal. Al Jazeera. Retrieved from: https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/peace-uncertainty-ethiopia-eritrea-deal- 190708115216882.html
Institute for Policy Studies [IPS], (2005). The war between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Retrieved from: https://ipsdc.org/the_war_between_ethiopia_and_eritrea/
UCDP, (n.d.). Country profile: Ethiopia. Retrieved from: https://ucdp.uu.se/country/530
UN, (n.d.). UN mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea is withdrawn. Retrieved from: https://unmee.unmissions.org