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along the Eritrean fronEritrean soldiers were tier. In July 1997, the killed. Eritrea respondEthiopian army went ed to this incident into the town of Badme immediately by sending and dismantled the civil in mechanised units, administration –– an act which managed to diswhich Eritreans protestlodge the local ed and consequently the Ethiopian administrasurrounding areas of tion. In May the same Badme was mined.16 In year, the Ethiopian parfact, starting from 1991, liament declared a state boundary-related probof war against Eritrea. lems surfaced. Eritreans There were diverse living in border areas causes of conflict. The were penalized for vioissuing of the new lating Ethiopian law. Eritrean currency that Asmara ignored this finally gave a sense of issue as a “product of the more independence to eccentric whims of provincial authorthe country; the accumulated and On May 6, 1998, the Tigrayan ities” and took this view as part of its unresolved commercial problems confidence in its status as an ally of the police ordered an Eritrean patrol that aggravated even more after the FDRE in Addis Ababa.17 The extent issue of the new currency; the issue unit in the Badme area to of friendly relations can also be seen of nationality; and the publication of disarm. The Eritreans refused, over the issue of TPLF’s occupation official maps in Mekele (capital of arguing that they were on of Addi Murug, which is well within the province of Tigray) where Eritrean territory. Asmara granted Badme appeared inside the state sovereign Eritrean soil. The permission to the TPLF forces when frontiers had a cumulative impact heated debate over it resulted in upon the erstwhile bonhomie and they requested to pursue the remnants of AFAR inside Eritrean terri- an exchange of gunfire in which friendly ties between the two govtory and they subsequently occupied four Eritrean soldiers were killed. ernments. it. Surprisingly, this was very mildly What is important to note is that Eritrea responded to this protested by Asmara in view of the factors such as external forces cordial nature of their relationship. In incident immediately by sending fuelling the conflict, serious ethnic an informal letter addressed to the problems or religious differences and in mechanised units. Ethiopian prime minister, the personal rivalries among the respecEritrean leader said: “We know the tive political leaderships were not boundaries (between us) by custom; we cannot say that the responsible for the state of affairs that developed during that lines are precisely delineated….the demarcation of borders time. has not been a priority….nevertheless the action taken by your However, something that is necessary to underline as a posarmed forces in Addi Murug is truly saddening…I appeal to sible cause is that in the struggle for secession during the midyou to take the necessary measures to prevent the unnecessary 1970s and early 1980s, the EPLF convinced the TPLF about escalation of friction due to the unjustifiable (military) mea- the need to take over power in Addis Ababa by overthrowing sure.”18 the Mengistu regime and not seceding from Ethiopia. The To the above letter, the Ethiopian prime minister respond- EPLF, in other words, did not want to support any secessioned in a friendly manner. “I, too, have heard that the situation ist movement in Ethiopia since such an action could invite a in the Bada area is not good. We did not think that there would backlash. As John Young puts it, the TPLF had a categorical be reason for friction because the area that our comrades are claim, which was re-emphasized in 1986 that the right to indeoccupying was never disputed before…Maybe, it is time that pendence proclaimed by Tigrayans and other Ethiopian preparations are made by both of us to demarcate and resolve nationalities also applied to the peoples of Eritrea. “If the future the border issue once and for all.”19 of Eritrea is to be truly democratic, it will have to respect the right of nations and nationalities up to, and including secesThe Period of Conflict sion”.20 The TPLF went to say that ruling out the possibility of such a step would be to contradict the EPLF’s own demoOn May 6, 1998, the Tigrayan police ordered an Eritrean cratic principles.21 Understandably, this position of the TPLF patrol unit in the Badme area to disarm. The Eritreans refused, was not conducive to the EPLF, which was very reluctant to arguing that they were on sovereign Eritrean soil. The heated accept this in principle given the fact that Eritrea possessed at debate over it resulted in an exchange of gunfire in which four least nine different ethnic communities while Tigray had an

February-April 2007



February 2007-April 2007