Ethiopia and Eritrea: After decades of discord, detente

Wednesday July 18 2018

Commercial flights

Passengers pose for a selfie picture inside an Ethiopian Airlines flight that departed from the Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to Eritrea's capital Asmara on July 18, 2018. PHOTO | MAHEDER HAILESELASSIE TADESE | AFP 

By AFP
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The resumption of commercial flights between Ethiopia and Eritrea on Wednesday marks the latest step in a peace process that in just six weeks has drawn a line under a bitter conflict.

An Ethiopian Airlines plane departed for Addis Ababa.

Here is a recap of the decades-long standoff between the Horn of Africa neighbours and their fast-track reconciliation.

In 1962 Ethiopia's last emperor, Haile Selassie, proclaims the annexation of Eritrea, abolishing its autonomous status and effectively making it a province.

Eritrea launches a war for independence that lasts nearly 30 years.

In 1991 Eritrean rebels, who help overthrow the military-Marxist Ethiopian regime of Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam, seize the Eritrean capital Asmara.

They install a government and gain full independence in 1993, a secession blessed by Addis Ababa.

However the 1,000-kilometre (620-mile) border between the neighbours is not properly defined and the move deprives Ethiopia of its only entry point to the Red Sea.

War

In May 1998 skirmishes erupt after Eritrean forces enter the area around Badme, claiming the town under borders drawn during Italian colonial rule.

Fighting spreads and in June the warring sides carry out air strikes.

The ensuing conflict is marked by trench warfare and large-scale pitched battles, alternating with long periods of calm.

Fighting flares anew in May 2000. A fierce bombardment of Eritrea turns the conflict in favour of Ethiopia, while indirect negotiations resume in Algiers.

The 1998-2000 fighting costs nearly 80,000 lives.

Border ruling

In June 2000 the two sides reach an initial peace accord that allows for the deployment of a UN peacekeeping force in a border buffer zone.

An official peace pact signed in December 2000 establishes a Boundary Commission, which sits at the International Court of Arbitration in The Hague, to officially demarcate the disputed frontier.

In 2002 the commission attributes to Eritrea chunks of land along the border, including the contested town of Badme.

But Ethiopia rejects the ruling and requests an "interpretation, correction". The commission refuses.

Stalemate
Ethiopian forces continue to occupy Badme. The standoff delays the physical demarcation of the border in terms of the commission's ruling.

Tensions rise with gunfire, landmines and troop movements near the border.

In May 2006, amid fears of a new all-out war, talks in London fail to end the standoff, the neighbours accusing each other of holding to inflexible positions.

In June Ethiopia claims to have killed more than 110 rebels allegedly sent by Eritrea, which it denies.

As the dispute drags on, border regions experience regular attacks.

Concession

In June 2018, Ethiopia's new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, announces his country will abide by the 2002 ruling requiring it to cede territory, including Badme, and withdraw its forces.

The declaration launches a whirlwind peace process.

Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki hosts Abiy in Asmara on July 8 and cheering crowds lining the streets to welcome him.

The leaders says they will reopen embassies and borders between them, resuming diplomatic, trade and transport ties.

Direct telephone communications are restored for the first time in two decades.

On July 9 the neighbours issue a statement saying the "state of war that existed between the two countries has come to an end".

Afwerki re-opens Eritrea's embassy in Addis Ababa on July 16, at the end of an emotion-filled three-day stay in Ethiopia.