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Monday, 22 April, 2002, 15:07 GMT 16:07 UK
Badme: Village in no man's land
Badme residents
Small, dusty Badme spawned the Ethiopia-Eritrea war
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By Nita Bhalla
BBC Ethiopia correspondent

Life in Badme goes on as normal. Children play table tennis in the street, women wash clothes on the doorsteps, off-duty soldiers laze under the trees.

There is no sign in this sleepy, dusty village of the aggressive propaganda row that has broken out over who owns Badme - the tiny place that spawned a bloody war between Eritrea and Ethiopia.

Badme residents play table tennis
Life has been continuing as usual
Located on the western section of the nebulous border between the two countries, Badme has little more than an elementary school, a clinic, a few bars and a couple of very modest hotels.

But tens of thousands died in the two-and-a-half year war that started when Eritrean forces arrived here in May 1998.

Claiming it to be Eritrean territory, they occupied the village, which was then under Ethiopian administration.

Click here for a map of the region

War broke out and spread across the 1,000km (650-mile) border in a conflict which brought untold suffering to hundreds of thousands of people on both sides.

A peace agreement was signed by both countries in December 2000.

Counter claims

As part of it, the independent Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC) was set up to delimit the disputed border.

Badme residents
The villagers say Badme has been in Ethiopia for generations
But when it revealed its decision on 13 April, the status of Badme was far from clear.

Eager to appease their people and justify the bloody conflict, both governments have since launched propaganda campaigns claiming that the EEBC has awarded Badme to them.

But in Badme itself, now under Ethiopian administration again, little has changed.

The 5,000 people living in the village and surrounding area make their meagre living from farming, growing crops like sorghum and sesame.

The young boys tend to their cattle and livestock, the women bathe their infants in the midday sun, the soldiers enjoy the local brew at lunchtime in the bars and cafes.

If President Isaias of Eritrea wants Badme, let him try and take it - we are ready for him and his army

Badme farmer Habtom Tedla
Most people here say they are Ethiopians, and, as far as they are concerned, they live in Ethiopia.

"I simply don't understand why there is confusion. We are Ethiopians and we have been in Badme for generations," said 47-year-old farmer, Haile Gebre.

"It has historically been in Ethiopia and will always remain so. We were occupied by Eritreans for almost a year and we don't want them back," he said.

"We are, however, the same people. Ethiopians and Eritreans are brothers and all we want is to live with them in peace.

"I want things to go back to the way they were before the war, but they have to accept that Badme is Ethiopian," he added.

Eritreans fled

Habtom Tedla, a 61-year-old farmer, said the Ethiopian Government had said the boundary commission had confirmed that their home was in Ethiopia.

"So who can tell us differently?", he asked.

Badme boys
Both governments claim Badme belongs to them
"If President Isaias of Eritrea wants Badme, let him try and take it. For sure, we are ready for him and his army," he said.

Residents say they want peace but simply will not entertain the idea that the place where generations of their families have lived could go to Eritrea.

According to the Head of Administration, Wolde Giorgis Wolde Mariam, about 1,000 Eritreans lived here before the war.

Most have now fled and are in camps for the internally displaced in Eritrea. These Eritreans, who have also lived in Badme for generations, believe Badme is part of Eritrea.

Map confusion

The confusion over Badme is quite simply that.

Although maps are included in the 135-page report which details the boundary commission's decision, none of them show where Badme village actually lies.

A house in Badme
About 1,000 Eritreans lived in Badme before the war
Yet more confusing are the different sets of maps - which have different scales - used by all the concerned parties. The EEBC has been using the latest maps available, but these are different from those the Ethiopians and Eritreans have.

The issue may be somewhat clarified once the co-ordinates mentioned in the EEBC decision have been plotted on standardised maps.

But detailed satellite imagery is also needed to determine the actual border route, before it can by marked out on the ground.

Experts say this will take six days. Even then, it is unlikely that any official clarification will be made until physical demarcation is completed by the middle of next year.

Boundary posts

No authority involved in settling the dispute - the EEBC, the UN peacekeeping mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE), which is overseeing the bilateral cease-fire, nor the Organisation for African Unity - will comment on Badme's status.

Despite the political tension, there appear to be no signs of a military build-up in the area and the situation seems calm and stable. But the claims and counter claims continue.

It seems Badme's residents are not likely to know officially if they are in Ethiopia or Eritrea until boundary pillars are finally placed along the border.

Click here to return
See also:

14 Apr 02 | Africa
Eritrea accepts border ruling
13 Apr 02 | Africa
Eritrea-Ethiopia border defined
24 Feb 02 | Africa
UN envoys upbeat after Horn tour
06 Feb 02 | Africa
Ethiopians await border results
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