Global Policy Forum

Ethiopia and Eritrea

Source: M6/ížorkell ížorkelsson

After the wartime Allies expelled Eritrea's Italian colonial rulers in 1941, Britain took control of the region and eventually was assigned it as a UN trust territory. In 1952, the UN decided to federate Eritrea to Ethiopia, hoping to reconcile Ethiopian claims of sovereignty and Eritrean aspirations for independence. A decade later, Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie dissolved the federation and annexed Eritrea, triggering a thirty year armed struggle in Eritrea.

In 1991, the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) captured the Eritrean capital, Asmara, and established a provisional government. Eritrea finally achieved independence, following an internationally monitored referendum in 1993. But friction between the two countries continued. A border clash in 1998 around the town of Badme escalated into a full-scale war, displacing about 250,000 Eritreans and killing thousands of soldiers from both sides. The UN Security Council called for a cease-fire and imposed a one-year arms embargo on both countries.

In 2000, Addis Ababa and Asmara signed a peace agreement brokered by the Organization of African Unity, calling for both parties to withdraw to the positions held before the 1998 war and establishing a boundary commission. The UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) also began patrolling along the security zone. However, relations between the two neighbors deteriorated in 2003 when the boundary commission ruled that the town Badme lies in Eritrean territory. While Ethiopia rejected the commission's ruling, Eritrea refused to negotiate a new settlement with the UN Special Envoy for Ethiopia-Eritrea Lloyd Axworthy.

In October 2005, Eritrea banned UN helicopters from patrolling the security zone, greatly undermining UNMEE's capacity to monitor the disputed border. Amid reports of troop build-ups along the border, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1640, threatening to sanction Addis Ababa and Asmara unless they returned to the 2000 peace plan. Eritrea, frustrated at the UN's lack of progress in getting Ethiopia to abide by the "final and binding" boundary commission ruling, ordered the expulsion of North American, European and Russian peacekeepers from UNMEE. Ethiopia's close relations with the US have allowed Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to ignore the commission's ruling. Tension along the border threatens violence anew as the US undertook in January 2006 Security Council-mandated mediation efforts.

UN Documents

Report of the Secretary General on Ethiopia and Eritrea (January 23, 2008)

The Secretary General concludes in this report that there is continuous militarization along the Ethiopia-Eritrean border, including renewed mining and increased numbers of troops within the demilitarized Security Zone. He adds that the Eritrean Government has severely hampered the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) by restricting fuel supplies, arresting staff members and imposing flight restrictions on UN helicopters. Ethiopia also refuses to accept the delimitation of the border area, claiming that the UN backed Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission demarcation of 2002 has “no validity in international law.

Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission Border Ruling (April 13, 2002)

The Permanent Court of Arbitration's decision on the border demarcation between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Security Council Resolution 1827 (July 30, 2008)

The UN Security Council ended the mandate of the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) on July 31, 2008. Eritrea obstructed the UN mission’s work and Ethiopia refused to recognize the binding boundary commission on the border dispute between both countries. The Council requested the Secretary General to explore the possibility of establishing another UN mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea to maintain peace.

Resolution 1670 (April 13, 2006)

The Security Council adopted resolution 1670 extending the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) until May 15, 2006. The resolution reiterates demands outlined in Resolution 1640, mainly that Eritrea lift the restrictions imposed on UNMEE operations and that Ethiopia accept the final .nd binding decision of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission. Should both parties fail to demonstrate full compliance by this deadline, the Security Council will consider transforming the peacekeeping operation into an observer mission or withdrawing it altogether. The inclusion of a deadline for compliance highlights the Council's frustration with the lack of progress on the peace process.

Security Council Resolution 1640 (November 23, 2005)

The Security Council adopted a resolution asking Eritrea and Ethiopia to remove their troops from the Temporary Security Zone separating the two countries. Resolution 1640 also calls on Eritrea to immediately reverse its decision to ban helicopter flights of the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea and demands that Ethiopia abide by the boundary settlement of 2000. If both sides fail to comply, the Council will consider the possibility of economic sanctions under Article 41 of the UN Charter.

Source: Associated Press


Eritrea: Portrait of a Failed State at Odds with Neighbours (November 5, 2011)

Eritrea’s history has been largely influenced by Italian colonization and Ethiopian occupation. Eritrea gained its independence in the early 1990s but since then, a strong authoritarian regime, led by President Isaias Afewerki, is governing the country. Dictator Afewerki allows no freedom and no foreign journalist can enter the country. Eritrea has become a source of instability in the Horn of Africa, especially with regards to its relationship with Ethiopia, and the country is facing food insecurity as well as economic hardships. Eritrea is now the second-largest source of asylum seekers. (allAfrica)

Eritrea: Free Political Prisoners 10 Years On (September 22, 2011)

According to the Ethiopian government, thirty-six countries including India, China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have leased farm land in the Gambella region for long periods at low rates. Karuturi, one of the largest international agribusiness companies, will export sugar, palm oil, rice and other foods to world markets. Land grabs like this deprive local farmers and villagers of access to land and displace entire villages. Local government officers denied claims that people are forcibly moved to make way for foreign companies.  (The Guardian)

Ethiopia at Centre of Global Farmland Rush (March 21, 2011)

According to the Ethiopian government, thirty-six countries including India, China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have leased farm land in the Gambella region for long periods at low rates. Karuturi, one of the largest international agribusiness companies, will export sugar, palm oil, rice and other foods to world markets. Land grabs like this deprive local farmers and villagers of access to land and displace entire villages. Local government officers denied claims that people are forcibly moved to make way for foreign companies.  (The Guardian)



WikiLeaks Reveals US Twisted Ethiopia's Arm to Invade Somalia (December 8, 2010)

Leaked government documents confirm that the US pressured Ethiopia to invade Somalia in 2006. The Ethiopian attack was a proxy war that the US spearheaded privately while condemning it. In reality, the US used rumors of a jihadist takeover in Somalia to give Ethiopia the justification for an invasion. The US backed the Ethiopian government despite its flagrant disregard for human rights within their own country. US support included training for Ethiopian troops in the lead-up to the invasion. (Foreign Policy in Focus)

East Africa: Ethiopia, Eritrea Fuelling Somalia War (February 10, 2010)

Ethiopia and Eritrea continue to fuel the civil war in Somalia. The author, from the Institute for African Progress, argues that four steps are needed to help end conflict in the region. Firstly, the African Union and the UN must insist that Ethiopia and Eritrea keep to the borders laid out by the International Border Committee. Secondly, local projects should be sponsored (perhaps by the Arab League) to foster community cohesion and rejuvenate agriculture. Third, the US and UN should de-list certain terrorists to neutralize their effect. Finally, the West should stop over-fishing and dumping industrial waste in Somalia's waters. (


UN Security Council hits Eritrea with sanctions (23 December 2009)

A UN Security Council resolution, passed on the 22 December 2009, imposes an arms embargo on Eritrea.  It also has provisions to freeze assets and prohibit travel of named leaders.  The Somali and Djibouti ambassadors welcomed the resolution, arguing that it is necessary to end the conflicts - often supported by Eritrean arms - in their countries (CNN)


Sanctions against Eritrea (October 8th, 2009)

The supply of arms to anti government rebel forces in Somalia has a  destabilizing impact on the region. Leaders of the AU are asking the Security Council to impose sanctions on those who supply the weapons. In the  Security Council  Eritrea was named as a supplier of weapons and there was  call for sanctions to be imposed against Eritrea for its alleged support of the rebels and violation of existing sanctions.


Disputed Ethiopia-Eritrea Border Town Still Stirs War Fears (December 22, 2008)

The UN peacekeeping force UNMEE withdrew from the Ethiopian-Eritrean border in July 2008, resulting in increased tensions between the two countries. An international commission assigned Badme to Eritrea, but Ethiopia ignored the commission's decision and took control over the border town. Because of the unsafe situation Badme only has 3960 inhabitants, compared to 10 000 before the 1998-2002 war. (Mail & Guardian)

Ethiopia and Eritrea in Turmoil: Implications for Peace and Security in a Troubled Region (December 1, 2008)

The withdrawal of the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) on July 31, 2008 increases the risk of a new war between these countries. Their border dispute has never been resolved because Ethiopia rejected the boundary commission's 2002 determination of the border, and Eritrea blamed the UN for not pressuring Ethiopia to comply with the commission's decision. Evidence shows that both countries are acquiring new weapons and stationing troops along their common border. (Institute for Security Studies)

Lost Opportunities in the Horn of Africa: How Conflicts Connect and Peace Agreements Unravel (June 23, 2008)

This Chatham House report argues that instead of handling each conflict separately, the UN and the African Union (AU) should deal with the Horn of Africa as if it were a "Regional Security Complex". The report urges the UN and AU to cooperate with local religious and civil society leaders to better integrate peacekeeping efforts in the region. By doing so, policymakers can further political and economic integration in the Horn region and avoid basing their efforts on richer countries' agendas.

UN Looks at Disbanding Eritrea/Ethiopia Force (June 23, 2008)

The UN Security Council is considering disbanding the peacekeeping mission in Eritrea and Ethiopia (UNMEE). Eritrea forced UNMEE out of the region because the UN was unable to enforce a ruling by an independent boundary commission on the disputed border territory. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warns that the withdrawal of UNMEE could spark renewed conflict, leaving the Security Council uncertain whether it should disband or simply restructure UNMEE. (Reuters)

Beyond the Fragile Peace Between Ethiopia and Eritrea: Averting New War (June 17, 2008)

Ethiopia and Eritrea continue to dispute the Ethiopia-Eritrea Boundary Commission's (EEBC) demarcation, and reinforce their military presence along the border. This International Crisis Group report urges the Security Council to demand that Ethiopia and Eritrea respect the EEBC line and withdraw their troops from the border's demilitarized buffer zone. The report also urges the SC to reconfigure the UN peacekeeping mission (UNMEE) into a smaller, more mobile mission to monitor aggressive deployments and escalating violence.

Horn of Africa War Possible if UN leaves - Ban (April 9, 2008)

Ban Ki-moon warns that there may be renewed war between Ethiopia and Eritrea if UN peacekeeping troops withdraw from a buffer zone separating the two countries. Eritrea blocked fuel and food supplies to peacekeepers, claiming that the UN failed to enforce an independent commission finding which granted large parts of the contentious border area to Eritrea. Ethiopia is able to ignore the UN delimitation due to its close relationship with the US. (Reuters)

The Ogaden: A Forgotten War Draining a Forgotten People (March 24, 2008)

This Guardian article warns of an impending humanitarian crisis in Eastern Ethiopia. The Ethiopian government has exacerbated a regional food crisis by attacking troops allied to the Ogaden National Liberation Front, a rebel group aiming to secure independence from Ethiopia. John Holmes, UN Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs, states that 4.5 million people could face famine because of the fighting, which is part of a wider conflict involving Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia.

UN Council Should Act on Eritrea-Ethiopia Ban (March 6, 2008)

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has urged the Security Council to address the border dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea. The two countries disagree over the town of Badme, which an independent UN border commission awarded to Eritrea. Ethiopia has been able to disregard this delimitation, however, due to its close strategic relationship with the US. Ban notes that failure to address the underlying causes of the conflict could lead to renewed war between the two countries. (AlertNet)

UN Says Eritrea Cut Off Food to Peacekeepers (February 15, 2008)

A UN spokeswoman has stated that UNMEE troops on the Ethiopia -Eritrea border are "trapped" after Eritrea cut off food supplies and stopped the peacekeeping force from withdrawing to Ethiopia. Eritrea has been frustrated by the UN's lack of progress in getting Ethiopia to abide by "final and binding" border limits. The UN stated that the disputed border territory belongs to Eritrea, although Ethiopia ignores the delimitation due to its close strategic relationship with the US. (Reuters)


Ethiopia Bogged Down in Somalia (November 27, 2007)

Somalians want Ethiopian troops out of the country, but Ethiopian PM Meles Zenawi claims it can't withdraw its troops because they act as substitute peacekeepers. Due to growing instability, the UN shows uncertainty about taking over the peacekeeping mission in the country. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called the Somali situation too dangerous because Somalia hasn't had a functioning government for more than a decade. (BBC)

Ethiopia, Eritrea May Go to War in Weeks (November 5, 2007)

The Organization of African Unity (OAU) together with the UN in 2000 created an independent boundary body to help resolve the border issues between Eritrea and Ethiopia. The commission established that these neighbors must resolve their border line tensions by the end of November 2007. International Crisis Group worries that these authoritarian governments will resume fighting, in spite of the UN peacekeeping force (UNMEE) working as a "buffer zone" The author shows that the US favors Ethiopia, while Eritrea's actions displease UN Security Council members. Despite this, the international community stands still. (Reuters)

Ethiopia's "Own Darfur" As Villagers Flee Government-Backed Violence (October 17, 2007)

The border between Ethiopia and Somalia suffers from the displacement and killing of civilians. The author claims that Ethiopian troops should be held accountable, as they burn villages suspected of protecting the separatist rebel group, Ogaden National Liberation Front. Although the UN condemns Ethiopia's actions, the country has the US and Britain as its allies and they insist Ethiopia was defending itself against a rebel insurgency. The US sees Ethiopia as a strong partner in the Horn of Africa in the US's "war on terror"? (Independent)

Rumblings of Trouble in Africa (August 1, 2007)

Ethiopia and Eritrea's disagreement over which of them owns the town of Badme might spark conflict that could engulf the entire horn of Africa. The US continues to support Ethiopia, even though Ethiopia disregards both the border agreement which it signed in 2000, and the UN’s ceding of Badme to Eritrea in 2002. Western diplomats suggest that fear of losing favor when US President George Bush leaves office might drive Ethiopia to attack the weaker Eritrea before the US presidential elections. The small UN force of 1,700 likely could not prevent such attacks. (Chicago Tribune)

Somalia Awash in Illegal Weapons, UN Monitors Say (July 26, 2007)

The UN's Monitoring Group on Somalia revealed that Eritrea smuggles SA-18 surface-to-air missiles, suicide belts, explosives and detonators to the Somali Islamic insurgent group Shabab, in violation of an international arms embargo. The report suggested that these violations signify the spread of the Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict into Somalia and also questioned what the US refers to as its "counter-terrorism" efforts in Somalia, which include air strikes and support of Ethiopia. (Associated Press)

East Africa: There's More Than a Border in Ethiopia, Eritrea Conflict (June 24, 2007)

The Nation - Nairobi argues that conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea goes beyond border disputes and that the historically rooted disagreement reflects clashes over politics, not land. For example, Ethiopia and Eritrea's constitutions could each spur secessionist movements in the other. Other problems include economic interdependence between the two countries, and stability in East Africa and especially Somalia. Thus, resolution of border disputes will not end hostility between Ethiopia and Eritrea, claims this article.

Somalia: A Failing Counter-Terrorism Strategy (May 14, 2007)

Ethiopia's war against Islamists in Somalia has violated international law, killed hundreds of civilians and displaced hundreds of thousands. Western powers continue to support Ethiopia militarily and financially, claiming that they are fighting terrorism in the region and preventing Somalia from being "Talibanized". This Open Democracy article points out, however, that most Somalis agree that the Islamists had actually brought peace to the country in the past.

Getting Ethiopia out of Somalia (May 3, 2007)

The US-backed Ethiopian presence in Somalia, which overthrew the Union of Islamic Courts and helped the clan-based Transitional Federal Government regain power, has provoked more resistance from some minor clans, business groups and Islamists, and escalated violence. The article voices Somali fears that Ethiopia plans to balkanize their country into clan based regions in order to gain access to the sea. It also highlights the problem that the Transitional Federal Government has decided to exclude even more individuals and groups than before, which will lead to further destabilization. (The Boston Globe)

Blame Game Over Somali Conflict (April 13, 2007)

At a regional meeting in Nairobi, Ethiopian officials blame Eritrea for undermining Somalia's Transitional Federal Government and accuse Eritrea of being "actively involved in terrorism" in the region. Eritrea asserts that the Ethiopian invasion has not brought peace, stability or democracy to Somalia. Many feel that the fighting in the country reflects a proxy war between Ethiopia and Eritrea. 1,400 Ugandan peacekeeping troops were deployed in March in Somalia, and Burundi has agreed to contribute to the mission of the African Union. The AU mission deplores the fact that logistical and financial support promised to the peacekeepers has not arrived. (News24)

North Koreans Arm Ethiopians as US Assents (April 7, 2007)

Shortly after successfully pushing for the imposition of strict UN sanctions against Pyongyang, the US allowed Ethiopia to purchase arms from North Korea, in violation of the UN ban. According to the New York Times, the US allowed the deal to take place, because it sees Ethiopia's intervention against the Union of Islamic Courts in Somalia as being part of the "war on terror"?


Source: Associated Press


Ethiopia Calls Eritrea Troop Move Minor Provocation (October 17, 2006)

Eritrea has moved 1,500 troops into the UN-monitored Temporary Security zone with Ethiopia, in violation of the 2000 Algiers ceasefire agreement, which ended war between the two countries. The Security Council has called for the immediate withdrawal of the troops, but Eritrea refuses to change its position, claiming Eritrea's sovereign rights to deploy forces on its territory. On the one hand, Ethiopia continues to reject the ruling of the Boundary Commission. On the other, Eritrea accuses the UN of failing to enforce the ruling and increasingly imposes restrictions on the UN Mission, undermining UNMEE's capacity to monitor the situation. (Reuters)

Ethiopia, Eritrea Use UN Assembly to Trade Charges (September 27, 2006)

During a debate at the 61st session of the UN General Assembly, Ethiopia and Eritrea accused each other of blocking the peace process launched to solve their boundary dispute. Security Council mandated UN troops to end the border conflict. However, with Ethiopia's rejection of the outcome of the international Boundary Commission, tensions arose on both Ethiopian and Eritrean sides limiting peacekeepers' ability to monitor troop movements between both countries. (Reuters)

Eritreans Pay Heavy Price in Conflict (March 14, 2006)

Eritrea and Ethiopia pay an economic and political price for their simmering border dispute. Exports have collapsed, mainly because the two Horn of Africa countries refuse to trade with each other and investors hesitate to invest in either country. The constant tension along the border has led Addis Ababa and Asmara to divert meager resources from development to security, while minefields keep farmers from working the land. As the head of the UN peacekeeping mission puts it, "The UN has been here for five years; these are five years of lost opportunities - economically, politically, socially and otherwise"? (Associated Press)

FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.