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Monday, 13 March, 2000, 13:39 GMT
Horn conflict: Devil in the detail
Ethiopian soldiers
More than 200,000 troops are assembled on the border
By Regional analyst Martin Plaut

The latest mediation efforts between Ethiopia and Eritrea have ended in recriminations.

The Organisation of African Unity (OAU) mission was undertaken by Ahmed Ouyahia, representing Algerian President Abdelaziz Boutefilka, current chairman of the OAU, and supported by the US special envoy, Anthony Lake.
Battle in the horn
But two weeks shuttling between Addis Ababa and Asmara, has not achieved the hoped for breakthrough in the deadlocked peace process.

In particular, the diplomats were unable to get agreement on the steps that would be required to achieve peace.

Commenting on the outcome of the Ouyahia/Lake mission, US State Department spokesman, James Rubin said on 10 March that the OAU and US would continue to work for peace.

He said that "consensus was reached on some of the provisions of the Technical Arrangements, while others require additional mediation to secure the mutual acceptance of the full documents by both parties".

Plans on the table

The two countries, which went to war over a border dispute in May 1998, have agreed, in principal to an OAU plan, adopted by the last OAU summit in July 1999. But the devil has been in the detail.
Anthony Lake
US envoy Anthony Lake: Failed to secure peace so far
The plan - known as the Framework Agreement, is supported by two further documents, the "Modalities" and the "Technical Arrangements." And it is the Technical Arrangements that is now the subject of controversy.

In February 1999, following a major reverse on the battlefield at Badme, the Eritreans indicated that they were willing to accept the OAU plan.

But Ethiopia has had serious reservations about the proposals, and particularly about the Technical Arrangements, and submitted a series of questions to the OAU, which were then replied to by the organisation. The OAU's reply failed to satisfy the Ethiopians, who have been pressing for amendments.

Ethiopia welcomes the mediation

The latest mediation effort - Ouyahia/Lake mission - has provided some assurances to Addis Ababa, according to a senior Ethiopian sources.

"We are very happy that the two envoys understood why we had reservations with the 'Technical Arrangements' document, Counsellor at the Ethiopian embassy in Nairobi, Mengistu Ayalew told a UN news agency (IRIN News) on 10 March.

"Ethiopia is very happy that after continuous and thorough discussions, the two envoys agreed that the document should be adjusted to address our concerns," he said.

This confirmed what the British commentator, Patrick Gilkes, had been told by Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin.

Amendments

Interviewed on the BBC's Focus on Africa on 9 March, Patrick Gilkes said that the foreign minister indicated that the mediators had accepted that amendments to the Technical Arrangements had to be made in three areas:

  • Specific identification of all the areas occupied, by either side, and from which withdrawal should be made.
  • The Technical Arrangements speak of a UN peacekeeping force. The Ethiopians have insisted on a much smaller OAU observer mission, arguing that bringing in the UN changed the 'ownership' of the peace process.
  • The restoration of civilian administration in the areas from which withdrawal would be made should be without restriction. This should allow an armed militia to patrol these areas.
Overall these steps would, in Ethiopian eyes, allow a virtual return to the status quo that existed prior to May 1998.

This has been a central demand by Ethiopia ever since the conflict erupted.

For Ethiopia this would be tantamount to an acceptance by the international community that Eritrea was the aggressor in May 1998.

Eritrean concerns

Eritrea has been deeply worried by the latest developments, complaining that it had been kept in the dark.

The permanent secretary to the Eritrean Foreign Ministry, Tesfai Ghermazien described the Ethiopian position as "a complete turnaround" from what Ethiopia had previously told the UN.
wreckage on the border
A recent border clash ended an eight-month lull in the fighting
In particular he complained that both Ethiopia and Eritrea had accepted that the Technical Arrangements were not open to amendment.

He said that this had been insisted upon by Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi during talks held in Algeria in July 1999.

Mr Tesfai quoted from the conclusion to the Technical Agreement which states:

"The OAU salutes the understanding reached by the personal envoy of the current Chairman with His Excellency the President of the State of Eritrea and His Excellency the Prime Minister of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia, respectively, that the document containing the Technical Arrangements is not open to amendment."

Eritrea fears that if the amendments were accepted and Ethiopia got the disputed territory back and re-established its administration, the wider peace plan could be left to gather dust on OAU and UN shelves.

The Eritrean ambassador to the UN, Haile Menkarios, says he has had assurances from Anthony Lake that the amendments will not be forced upon Eritrea.

The response to the two week peace mission by Ahmed Ouyahia and Anthony Lake are further proof of just how difficult it is to get agreement between the two sides.

In the meantime over 200,000 troops face each other across their mutual border.

While both Ethiopia and Eritrea maintain that they are seeking peace, both have been preparing for war.

See also:

03 Mar 00 | Africa
25 Feb 00 | Africa
09 Feb 00 | Africa
27 Oct 99 | Africa
31 Aug 99 | Africa
23 Mar 99 | Africa
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