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Last Updated:  Monday, 7 April, 2003, 14:15 GMT 15:15 UK
Analysis: Crucial point for Horn relations
By Martin Plaut
BBC News

Relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea have reached a critical juncture.

Badme village
Badme has symbolic but no strategic significance
The Border Commission, established by the Algiers peace treaty of December 2000, has ruled unequivocally that the village of Badme, that was the site of the original clash between the two countries, is Eritrean.

The ruling is deeply controversial.

The Ethiopian information ministry has called the ruling unfair saying that "the Ethiopian Government and people would exert utmost efforts to legally and peacefully correct the Commission's misinterpretations of the border ruling".

The problem for Ethiopia is that the Commission's ruling is final and binding, and there is no possibility of appeal.

International role

Eritrea has called for pressure from the international community to enforce the ruling, pointing out that this is provided for in the Agreement on the Cessation of Hostilities signed by both countries in June 2000.

They are correct in this, since the agreement called for "The OAU and the United Nations to commit themselves to guarantee the respect for this commitment of the two Parties until the determination of the common border".

Moreover, it called for enforcement in the following terms: "measures to be taken by the international community should one or both of the Parties violate this commitment, including appropriate measures to be taken under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter by the UN Security Council".

Chapter VII is the section of the Charter that allows for action up to and including the use of force.

This is the formal position.

Eritrea is quite within its rights to call for the backing of the international community in enforcing the terms of the agreement.

But it does not reflect the realities on the ground.

Indeed, enforcing this could prove very costly indeed.

With the international community fully engaged with the crisis in Iraq, there is little chance of the UN or anyone else despatching troops to the region to enforce Eritrea's claim.

Such enforcement certainly falls outside the mandate of the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea, Unmee.


It also does not address what must be the long term interests of both countries, which is to allow the border to be drawn, and then to renew normal relations.

Maintaining a state of hostility is not in the interests of either Ethiopia or Eritrea, and the closure of their border is deeply damaging to communities all along the border.

Soldiers during the border war
Thousands were killed during the war

The best way forward would be for both countries to agree that Badme itself is not important.

It is - after all - a small and insignificant village, and there are several possibilities for resolving the impasse.

Ethiopia could continue to administer it, while acknowledging Eritrean sovereignty over the area.

It might even be possible, with a little goodwill, to agree to a joint administration of Badme.

Otherwise there are suggestions that another settlement might be built for Ethiopia in the Badme plain, which could also be called "Badme".

The critical question is whether both sides are willing to show the kind of flexibility that has so far been singularly lacking in this dispute.

If either side was willing to make the kind of bold and generous gesture that is now called for, it might be possible to resolve the other problems that exist all along the rest of the border.

The Border Commission has already offered to re-draw the boundary so as to avoid cutting villages in half, and moving populations - but only if asked to by both Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Eritrea warns Ethiopia on border
04 Apr 03  |  Africa
Ethiopia regrets Badme ruling
03 Apr 03  |  Africa
Badme: Village in no man's land
22 Apr 02  |  Africa
Border a geographer's nightmare
12 May 00  |  Africa
Q&A: The Horn's bitter war
12 Apr 02  |  Africa

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