Somali crisis complicates Ethiopia-Eritrea dispute

By Jack Kimball
ASMARA, April 15 (Reuters) - Ethiopia and Eritrea's entanglement in Somalia has added a dangerous new element to their already tense relationship and diminished hopes they may resolve a border dispute seen as vital for regional stability.
Analysts say tensions could further worsen in the countdown to a November deadline, set by an independent boundary commission, for both sides to demarcate their border.
"The tragedy is that it's gone well beyond the confines of the border dispute," said Patrick Smith, editor of the Africa Confidential newsletter.
"It's now to a point where there can be no amelioration on the border issue until there is some resolution in Somalia," he said by telephone from England.
The neighbours have been locked in a bitter impasse over the border since the Hague-based commission issued its ruling on the 1,000 km (620 mile) frontier in April 2002, as part of a peace deal ending Ethiopia and Eritrea's 1998-2000 war.
The border ruling awarded a flashpoint town of Badme to Eritrea in a decision rejected by Ethiopia.
Diplomats accuse both sides of playing out their feud by supporting opposing parties in Somalia, saying the proxy conflict exacerbates the border row now in its fifth year.
Somalia and Ethiopia have accused Eritrea of undermining the interim Somali government by supplying weapons to insurgents involved in some of the worst fighting in Mogadishu for more than 15 years.
Asmara vehemently denies allegations it is funnelling arms to anti-government forces in Somalia and accuses Ethiopia of breaking international law by "invading" Somalia and interfering with the country's right to chose its own leaders.
"It's fair to say their relations are at the lowest point since the fighting ended in 2000 ... the Somali episode has brought it to a new low," said David Shinn, who was the U.S. envoy to Ethiopia from 1996-1999.
"The more time that goes on the less likely that it will reach a mutually agreeable conclusion," he told Reuters.
Eritrea accuses the United Nations and United States of failing to do more to force Ethiopia to respect the border ruling.
"If you go to court and there is a decision, you're not going to say again let's sit back and review the whole thing," presidential adviser Yemane Ghebremeskel told reporters.
"I don't think we can blame Ethiopia now. I think we should blame the Security Council," he said.
"If Ethiopia is refusing, then Ethiopia must be made to comply because if the Security Council is trying to force other governments that have defied Security Council resolutions, why is Ethiopia treated in a preferential, discriminatory way?"
Analysts say a diplomatic solution seems unlikely since there is no credible third party to mediate.
"The situation is really overheated especially since there appears to be no honest broker. The U.S. has seemed to go entirely over to Ethiopia," a British analyst said.
The United States tried to break the impasse last year, but failed with Eritrea accusing it of favouring Ethiopia.
"Dialogue is a recipe for complications," Yemane said.
Citing the intransigence of both nations, the boundary commission last year said it was up to Ethiopia and Eritrea to mark the border themselves. Analysts say the November deadline may heighten tensions and hand both sides a legal justification to forcibly take back occupied territory.
"It almost gives them a green light to possible military action. These things can take on an important symbolism that can be used by either side to justify their actions," said a British-based analyst, who declined to be named.
However, with so much at stake and both parties distracted by Somalia, analysts were divided as to whether there would be a military solution to the border dispute.
"It's been going on like this for five years with no indication of a peaceful solution or a military solution to the problem and I think this will continue for some time to come," Shinn said.
"It may not come to a peaceful solution until there are literally governmental changes in both countries, but I don't think one is close in either country," he added.

posted by Ethiounited Moderator at11:09 PM


Post a Comment

<< Home