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A F R I C A

Q U A R T E R L Y

Relations between Eritrea and Sudan were broken in the mid-1990s due to the start of a guerrilla war in South Sudan. In the second round of conflict, Ethiopia occupied Badme and tried to occupy Assab port at a huge material and human cost. the transitional government of Ethiopia hinged on the fact that political recognition and self-government for ethnic groups would be granted.26 Meles Zenawi’s government, therefore, has been looked at with suspicion by the Amharas and is accused of being too close and too soft with Eritrea by allowing it to re-export products acquired from Ethiopia at low prices in Birr; by allowing it to re-export a great number of imports to the Ethiopian market; and by allowing it to collect discharge rates for refined petroleum in Assab and for the use of ports. Mention should also be made of the Oromo factor in their bilateral relations. During its war of liberation, the EPLF tried to enter into an alliance with the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) to counter the TPLF. This was particularly the case when the relations between the TPLF and the EPLF started souring as mentioned above. In fact, close contacts were initiated between the OLF and the EPLF as early as 1980 when some Oromo fighters were admitted to the training center in the Northern region called Sahel. They also signed cooperation agreements. Based on the EPLF-OLF accord of 1986/87, the OLF was allowed to recruit Oromos from among the prisoners of war.27 Interestingly, according to Medhane, the major aim was to deny the TPLF a hegemonic position in Ethiopian politics, to prepare a hostile political force in a bid to incapacitate its potential to advance independent or hostile political principles with regard to Eritrea.28 And this strategy was used because the Oromo was a crucial factor as a power base in Ethiopia. This role of Oromos in Ethiopian politics, therefore, plays a central part in the Eritrea-Ethiopia bilateral relations even today and hence cannot be neglected. In other words, all these factors had a cumulative effect upon the relations and resulted in the war. To put it in proper perspective, the government in Ethiopia needed an external threat that allowed it to unify the fractured Ethiopian society around the political leadership. For this, Eritrea provided a suitable reason so that Meles Zenawi could demonstrate his commitment to different sections of the society.

Developments During the War The war had the following developments. When it started in 1998, it led to mediatory efforts by Rwanda and the U.S., which did not succeed. Eritrea rejected the peace plan since the plan called for unilateral Eritrean withdrawal from the disputed territory of Badme and the restoration of Ethiopian administration in the area.29 When the war resumed in 1999, the Russians were involved by way of selling airplanes and providing pilots to both the countries. Sudan, which was isolated due to its alliance with Iran, took the opportunity to mend fences with both Ethiopia and Eritrea by agreeing to eliminate the bases which it had provided to the guerrilla fighters who were fighting against the Ethiopian government and by negotiating the reestablishment of a diplomatic relationship with Asmara.30 The bilateral relationship between Eritrea and Sudan was broken in mid-1990s due to the start of the internal guerrilla war in South Sudan which was accused of deriving support from the Eritrean government. In the second round of conflict, Ethiopia occupied the town of Badme and tried in vain to occupy the port of Assab at an enormous material and human cost. The war also had disastrous consequences for the people of the two countries. It was accompanied by the deportation of almost 100,000 Ethiopians of Eritrean origin in that country. The possessions of these people have been appropriated by the Ethiopian government and the same was true the other way. International efforts to solve the problem came up soon after the first round of hostilities. Even though the U.S.Rwanda peace plan failed, OAU, as a multi-purpose regional organisation, got involved and took the initiative of solving the problem. In fact, the OAU initiative was in no way new as it was modelled along the U.S.-Rwanda peace plan and was supportive of the Ethiopian position. It ignored the fact that the border problem is historically rooted due to non-delimitation of the borders between the two countries and proceeded to conclude its opinion based on the events that took place on the ground between May 6 and 12, 1998, calling for a unilateral withdrawal by Eritrea from Badme and its environs

February-April 2007

57

AQ-Feb-2007-Apr-2007  

February 2007-April 2007

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