Tuesday, 17 June 2003

Addis Ababa (Fides Service) – As the United Nations Organisation is about to start the process of boundary marking between Ethiopia and Eritrea, tension between the two countries increases. Local Fides Service sources, which ask not to be named, say that “for the moment a resuming of hostilities, although not imminent, cannot be excluded. What is concerning is that there is no clear will on the part of either government to start dialogue and direct confrontation to settle the remaining difficulties.” A sign of tension is the injuring of five volunteers (doctors and nurses) members of an Italian NGO, during the night of Saturday 14 June, in the demilitarised zone which is the object of the dispute between the two countries. The volunteers lost their way while trying to reach a convent on the Ethiopian border hosting orphaned children. After setting up a camp in the demilitarised zone they were attacked by a group of militia who, realising their mistake, helped the Italians to reach assistance.
Between 1998 and 2000 Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a bloody war over a border dispute. The war, which caused the death of between 50,000 to 200,000 people (the exact number is still unknown) ended with a treaty signed in Algiers on 12 December 2000 which foresaw international arbitration to establish border lines between the two countries. Ethiopia was not happy when the village of Bademme was assigned to Eritrea. “Bademme is the root of the conflict” say Fides sources, “for Ethiopia, the fact that Bademme was assigned to Eritrea means that Addis Ababa is held responsible for the conflict”. Ethiopians say: “If we governed the village before the war why should it be given to Eritrea? It is as if Eritrea went to war to liberate its illegally occupied territory. Ethiopians say the territory has always been part of their country”.
“It is perhaps difficult for a European to understand why two countries which are so poor should fight over a worthless piece of desert. But at the root of the problem there are domestic political motivations. The leadership of both countries feel they must consolidate their power also by means of exasperated nationalism and an absurd war” say Fides sources. “At the beginning the new leaders, who came to power in the early 1990s, gave signs of wanting to put aside the logic of power. In fact for a short period the countries collaborated, and it seemed that for both Ethiopia and Eritrea economic development was a priority for both governments. But later pressure was put on the accelerator of nationalism and war. Now Asmara and Addis Ababa do not speak directly, they only official contact they have is through international bodies charged with monitoring the armistice. Whereas what the countries need is to start sincere collaboration to face together common problems; particularly food shortage and economic development”.
In recent years serious drought in the Horn of Africa gave rise to a food crisis in the region affecting about 14 million people. “The international community it doing a lot to help. Emergency aid is arriving from the United States, the European Union, Japan and Canada. But once the emergency is over it will be necessary to adopt a food policy to avoid the crises which regularly strike the area. This can only be achieved with the collaboration of all the countries in the region and the help of the international community” say Fides Sources.
Lastly there is the problem of terrorism. Western countries say the region, Somalia in particularly, is becoming a haven for terrorists connected with Al Qaida. The United States and other countries have deployed troops in the zone, in Djibouti where, besides French soldiers the US has about 800 men. “The problem of infiltration of extremists is real” say Fides sources “and this is another matter which must be faced with collaboration of the governments, with respect for the culture and needs of the local people. The problem of terrorism cannot take priority over the development of the area the real cure for every sort of extremism and nationalism”. LM (Fides Service 17/6/2003 EM lines 48 Words: 635)