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The Badme story: What is going on between Ethiopia and Eritrea?

By Tigrai Online
June 18, 2012

The gallant Ethiopian defense forces who defeated and humiliated the Eritrean rag tag sawa army
The gallant Ethiopian defense forces who defeated and humiliated the Eritrean rag tag sawa army will do it again if they want to
After the much controversial Algiers Accord of 2000 arch foes Ethiopia and Eritrea have not been engaged in any sort of deadly confrontations except for incessant verbal wars. Many observers including Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, were propagating the view of “No war, No peace.”

Similarly, allies of Ethiopia particularly those from the West, are seemingly in deep silence and seldom comment on the situation. Still, it will be naïve to assume that they do not closely follow the state of affairs. The US and other western powers can never abandon the matter as the Ethio-Eritrean tension is in one way or another linked to their strategic interest in the Horn of Africa region and the Mediterranean region at large.

Recent facts show that as a strong ally of Ethiopia, the US, has been playing a key role in pushing the UN Security Council to impose sanctions and an arms embargo on the Isaias Afewerki regime that left Asmara isolated from the world in may aspects.

One step that may be referred to as a bold move occurred after a decade in January this year when Ethiopia accused its arch foe of allegedly abducting and killing European tourists along with local guides from the Afar area.

Eventually, Ethiopian troops carried out raids on three camps belonging to a rebel group inside Eritrean territory where the government of Ethiopia confirmed it but denied reports that its military reportedly did further raid which was claimed a few days after the first one.

A number of skirmishes are reported to have been taking place in border villages in recent months, with some Ethiopians allegedly abducted by Eritrean forces.

Worryingly, the last war between the two countries in May, 1998, was triggered by similar skirmishes.

However, the last twelve years have been characterized by tensions and repeated accusations with no bold move from either side.

But nowadays, a new trend seems to be going fast, signaling a new confrontation around Badme. Badme - a small town located some 990 kilometers from the capital of Ethiopia - has not been as stable as Addis Ababa. The wind of peace is not blowing in Badme especially since the last three weeks. The Badme areas inhabitants are not sleeping peacefully. The unstable condition is growing at the frontier which forces the dwellers to be on extreme red alert where even some have already begun leaving their locality for other places.

As if nothing is happening or what could be considered as a strategic move by pundits, both central governments have not yet said anything. In the past, both sides have been vocal in accusing each other since the end of the two-year bloodshed.

Citing Asmara's alleged role in the January death and abduction of European tourists and local guides in Afar region, Ethiopia's retaliation was taken as a representation of the first direct military confrontation against Eritrea since the 1998-2000 border war that left over 70,000 dead from both sides.

Two weeks ago The Reporter’s Amharic edition reported that Ethiopian forces attacked a military base inside Eritrean territory killing soldiers and taking some hostage while Eritreans were celebrating their independence day.

Similarly, the paper reported a follow-up incident saying that Eritrea retaliated by attacking Badme Elementary School and a bus that was parked in the town.

Adding fuel to fire, facts that are leaking out from Badme area suggest that existing tensions along the frontier have presumably turned into an inevitable confrontation.

Sources approached by The Reporter proved that there were heavy fire exchanges in Badme last week on Wednesday night, June 6th, 2012 around 10:00 p.m. local time.

During this fierce incident, it was learnt that several Eritrean soldiers were wounded. The Reporter, however, was unable to verify the exact number of the aforementioned wounded Eritrean soldiers and the apparent casualties that may have been incurred on the Ethiopian side.

According to residents of the disputed area, both sides are alert and keeping their eyes on one another.

Fearing the growing tensions, according to sources, Badme town is getting almost deserted at an alarming rate as residents are evacuating to Shiraro and other nearby towns.

There are also few likable evidences strengthening the residing witnesses’ claim of the simmering tension. For instance, district authorities of Badme took an unusual precautionary measure such as the closure of schools a month earlier from the original time table.

This particular action taken by local authorities is said to have been a clear indication of Ethiopia’s readiness on the possibility of a war. For that reason, no casualties were reregistered in the Eritrean raid on the elementary school and the bus.

Independent observers like Abdi Wassa, a political science and international relations lecturer and an expert in Horn of Africa politics at Addis Ababa University, share concerns that the current confrontation points towards “the likely” signal of war breaking out after 12 years.

“This recent trend can be considered as a representative signal of direct confrontation,” Abdi says.

For the political science lecturer, if the confrontation turns into a full-scale war, it would be a big loss for both sides.

“By any means, should the war break out and whether Ethiopia or Eritrea conclude it with a win, it brings nothing as both of them are poor nations.”

Abdi rather believes that the feared war would be ended in unwanted results categorically political unrest, economical crisis as well as regional disorders.

“Talking in the Ethiopian perspective, this war can cause at first political instability and secondly, it hinders the country’s massive development activities coupled by deterring the boosting economic growth,” Abdi went on, adding his third assumption: “Equally, the war would tarnish Ethiopia’s image among the international community particularly its role in peace-keeping missions in Africa and its attempt to maintain its hegemonic power in the already volatile region of the Horn and Eastern Africa region.”

Beyond the two nations, Abdi says that the war can bring a dire effect that will escalate the conflict of the region.

For several years, clashes along the tense Ethio-Eritrean frontier has been entirely rhetorical. This changed on March 16th, 2012 when the Ethiopian government boldly announced that it had crossed into Eritrean territory and had attacked three military installations.

So far Eritrea appears to be keen in cooling the situation by saying that it will not strike back.

This is a smokescreen which disguises Ethiopia's non-implementation of the findings of the Boundary Commission.

Ethiopian sources suggest that Eritrea is increasingly isolated from the international community, is short of funds and is in no position to respond effectively.

The fall of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's of Libya deprived the Eritrean government of one of its few allies.

In December last year, the UN Security Council imposed tougher sanctions against Eritrea after Ethiopia accused it of continuing to provide support to Somalia's Islamist militants of Al-Shabaab-whom Ethiopian troops are currently fighting. This has weakened Eritrea,

Indications from Addis Ababa are that the background to the raid may be more complex than simply giving Eritrea-based rebels a bloody nose.

Three camps belonging to a faction of the Afar Revolutionary Democratic Unity Front (ARDUF) were attacked, in reprisal for a rebel raid on tourists in January that left five people dead.

Certainly there are few tears being shed by Ethiopia for the approximately 50 Afar rebels who are thought to have been killed in the attack.

But Ethiopian observers suggest that other factors may have contributed to the raid.

These are in areas awarded to Ethiopia by the Algiers Peace Agreement of June 2000 and the findings of a subsequent Boundary Commission.

Eritrea has repeatedly called on the international community to enforce the Algiers Agreement and the Boundary Commission ruling, but Ethiopia has refused to allow this, insisting that there should be further talks on the border problem.

This has left the location of the border in dispute, opening the way to localized disputes.

The Eritrean gambit was nothing new. In 1995, Asmara pursued a similarly muscular strategy in its dispute with Yemen over the Hanish Islands: deploy overwhelming force to assert control over contested land, and enter into negotiations from a position of strength.

Seemingly, the international community's approach to the Ethio-Eritrean border dispute is uncertain. Yet, concerned parties would do well to understand what makes both the protagonist and antagonist tick. Some observers argue that Ethiopian equivocation of the "final and binding" delimitation decision - a key hurdle in the resolution of the Eritrean-Ethiopian border dispute - is dictated by perceptions of risk firmly rooted in the complex origins of the Eritrean-Ethiopian war. This does not exonerate the Meles government, but it does place its behavior in more intelligible terms.

This year’s anniversary of the Algiers accord comes against the backdrop of two significant events: Ethiopia’s retaliatory military attacks inside Eritrea in mid March followed by the disappearance of President Isaias Afewerki for a month triggering fears that he was either dying or dead.

However, it was not true. This made-up news story about the president in the wake of the incursions in pursuit of “Eritrea-supported anti-Ethiopia subversives” was believed to be an attempt to hide Isaias’s painful political dilemma over how to react to Addis Ababa’s moves, pundits argue. The government said there would be no reprisals hinting that there would be no further bloodshed. But the country was also not in a position to engage in yet another military confrontation given the continued depletion of its armed forces because of substantial defections over the years. The situation is made worse by the UN arms embargo imposed in 2009. Today, after two rounds of UN sanctions topped by an incapacitating arms embargo and confronted by a more rising opposition and facing a more aggressive Ethiopia to the south, the Eritrean leader is believed to be under tense and stressful pressure.

Eritrean oppositions in exile are claiming that if he was suffering from poor health, it could have been caused by the gruesome political quagmire he finds himself in. Other critics also claim that the Eritrean government is unlikely to ever get sympathy from the African Union, the UN or US as they all have already expressed their displeasure and desire to see its demise by imposing sanctions justified or not.

With all skirmishes and signals of confrontation, neither Ethiopia nor Eritrea has made any official or public statements. Nothing is also heard from other nations, including the western powers and the UN. No one is exactly sure where this tension is heading but prediction and fear is mounting. What remains unanswered is how long Badme will be a smokescreen war zone.

Source: The Reporter - http://www.thereporterethiopia.com/News/the-badme-story-a-war-in-smokescreen.html

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