Archive for September, 2008

Ending the UN´s peacekeeping mission in Eritrea and Ethiopia is an abrogation of its mission

Posted on September 2, 2008. Filed under: 0. Peace, 1. World Peace, 4. Peace in East Africa |

The Security Council’s decision to end the UN’s peacekeeping mission in Eritrea and Ethiopia is an abrogation of the United Nation’s mission.

 UN’s main reason for existence is to promote peace and abate violent conflicts. In this capacity, for the last eight years, it has nudged the two bellicose governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea to agree to binding arbitration to resolve their border conflict. It deployed 4200 UN force, known as the UN Mission in Eritrea and Ethiopia (UNMEE), to monitor the cessation of hostilities between the two countries.

 However, the two governments have dug in their heels and refused to abide by the peaceful resolutions to which they had committed themselves. Their noncompliance has frustrated the international peace effort. Their actions are drawing the whole region into fratricidal wars. The UN council’s decision to disband UNMEE came in response to restrictions imposed by Eritrea on its operation and Ethiopia’s refusal to recognize a binding verdict by an international boundary panel that granted the flashpoint border town of Badme to Eritrea. The UN Security Council, instead of putting more pressure on the two regimes to accept a peaceful resolution to their conflict, has sadly decided to terminate its mission. This decision is not only an abandonment of the UN’s mandate but also a negation of its essence.

At this time, over 200,000 soldiers are amassed on both sides of the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea. In spite of the fact that both regimes have declared that they have no intention to resume war, they are exercising their war maneuvers within shooting range of each other.  Border skirmishes have flared up, raising the specter of another tragic war.  With these soldiers already in trenches and ready for assault, full-scale conflict can be triggered at anytime.

Eight years ago, Ethiopia and Eritrea waged a savage war, which lasted for two years. This war over a barren piece of land cost the lives of over 70,000 people and resulted in hundreds of thousands wounded and millions of dislocated civilians. People who were already ravaged by drought and famine were made to suffer the consequence of a heinous war. Even the architects of the war—President Isaias Afewerki and Prime Minster Meles Zenawi—characterized it as senseless. Yet the pointlessness of the debacle did not stop these two leaders from using innocent people as canon fodder and unleashing their full forces to destroy each other’s rudimentary infrastructure.

            For the last eight years, the two countries have wasted billions of dollars and millions of man-years of labor on their stalemated war effort. This is particularly outrageous when taking into considerations that these states are two of the poorest and most underdeveloped countries on the face of the earth. Every year, millions of their citizens suffer from famine. Year after year they make it through only with the help of international aid. All these resources, which were wasted on a futile war effort, could have made significant impact on alleviating the deplorable lot of their respective citizens.

The situation has spiraled downward, dragging the whole region into an abyss of conflict, disorder and tragedy. Ethiopia and Eritrea are fighting a proxy war in Somalia. Ethiopia invaded Somalia in support of the defunct Transitional Somali Government. To counter Ethiopia’s move, Eritrea, according to many observers, has supported the radical Islamist group known as the Union of Islamic Courts that aims to oust the transitional Somali government.  The end result: a quagmire of war and the “worst humanitarian crisis in Africa,” according to UN reports. 

Moreover, this conflict is evolving into a perfect storm where clan, ethnic, and national conflicts are being supplanted by an ominous religious conflict between Christians and Moslems that threatens the whole region. This is what the leaders of the Union of Islamic Courts had in mind when they declared Jihad on Ethiopia. The United State’s involvement in this war, which it sees as an extension of its global effort against El-Qaeda, is escalating the conflict into the mother of all Jihads. The strong alliance between Ethiopia and the United States has alienated Eritrea. This has made Eritrea ally itself with the Union of Islamic Courts. The Bush administration has threatened to declare Eritrea a sponsor of terrorism.

            The Eritrean and Ethiopian regimes are also fomenting armed conflicts by supporting and arming opposition groups in each other’s countries. Eritrea is supporting the Ogaden Liberation Movement, Oromo Liberation Forces, and so on, while Ethiopia is arming anti-Isaias groups. These subversive acts, fostered by the two regimes for mere tactical gains, are steering the whole region into strategic chaos. Moreover, the venomous crude propaganda drummed up by the media of both countries is poisoning the relationship between these fraternal peoples who, for centuries, had lived and cooperated with each other in good times and bad.

            What is the root cause of this conflict and why has it been burning unabated for so long? Can so much human agony, destruction of hundreds of thousands lives and squandering of resources be justified by the conquest of a piece of barren land?  No. The truth is, this conflict is a diversion. The two regimes are whipping up this conflict because they have failed to answer the social, political and economic needs of their people. As long as these countries are locked in endless quarrels, the rulers are not held accountable for the shortcomings of their domestic policies. Instead, the ramshackle economy and social misery can be blamed on the state of permanent war. Deprivation of human rights and political freedom can be justified as necessary to national security. Therefore, it should come as no surprise to anyone that the present rulers of the two states have little vested interest in bringing peace to this hapless region.           

            For the masses of Ethiopia and Eritrea, this war is simply an act against humanity. Those who have returned back to their villages after the previous war have barely put their broken lives back together, and now they live their daily lives under the threat of another devastating war.  They lack the rudimentary political rights and venues to express their indignation as their sons and daughters are forcefully conscripted to fight and die, as their villages are turned into theaters of war, and as millions of the old and the young are again forced into refugee camps for shelter.

             Under the Algiers Accords, both countries agreed that the demarcations of Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission would be final and binding and that their forces would stay out of the temporary security zone. But when the Boundary Commission on April 2002 accorded the dusty town of Bademe to Eritrea, Ethiopia reneged on its agreement.  Eritrea showed its unhappiness with the UN’s failure to force Ethiopia to abide by its agreement by putting roadblocks on the UNMEE’s activities. UNMEE force dwindled from 4200 strong to barely a few hundred.  Its mobility was virtually halted when Eritrea refused to supply it with fuel.  This led to the Security Council ‘s decision to end UNMEE when its mandate expires on July 31.

            However, this resolution negates what the UN stands for in this situation and other conflicts around the globe. If the UN backs off every time it is faced with resistance, how can it accomplish its goals? How can it be relevant in the real world? Even the Secretary-General’s assessment of the situation underlines the risk of a resumption of hostilities ”by accident or design, following the withdrawal of UNMEE, remains a reality.”  Is the UN waiting for another horrific war to break out, tens and thousands of people to die and millions of people to suffer needlessly?  In Ethiopia’s and Eritrea’s situation, the issue is clear: It is a crisis between two member states with legally binding accords. The UN has economic, political and moral instruments at its disposal to strongly persuade both parties to comply.

            The international community has a tendency to wait passively until disaster strikes.  It is harder to undo harm once it has been done. There is an opportunity to act proactively. If the world community can be more forceful in exposing and condemning the belligerent acts of these regimes, if it can impose military and economic sanctions judiciously, peace can be achieved at minimal cost to the peoples of Ethiopia and Eritrea and to the international community at large. The time is still ripe to take decisive action.


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