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    Relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea
  Eritrea, formerly a province of Ethiopia whose 30-year war for independence was a key factor in the broader rebellion that toppled Mengistu Haile Mariam.reg.gif (5235 bytes)
Eritrean rebels were instrumental in helping the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front overthrow a 17 year military regime in July 1991 (see Area Handbook Ethiopia ). Eritrea reached an amicable divorce with Ethiopia's new rulers and gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993.
Relations between the one-time allies soured when Eritrea introduced its own currency in November in an effort to reassert its independence, triggering a trade war.
  Ethiopia has 53 million people to Eritrea's 3 million, but the countries split the armaments that flowed into the region during the Cold War.

Border Dispute

  On May 6, Eritrean troops took over the border town of Badame, southwest of Asmara, after a skirmish between Ethiopian police units and armed men from Eritrea, according to Ethiopian officials.
   Ethiopia claims that Eritrea is illegally occupying the 160-square-mile Yirga triangle in northwestern Ethiopia, as well as other areas in the northeast. The two countries dispute at least
Ethion.gif (66731 bytes)six areas, Setit Mareb  Bada  Zoba Debubawi  Keyih  Bahri Badime(Yirga) areasWB01637_.gif (294 bytes) , along their common border, which was drawn by Italy after it conquered Eritrea in 1885. The boundary was left vague when Eritrea became Africa's newest nation. Ethiopia says it has jurisdiction over those areas that used to be part of the Ethiopian province of Tigre. But Eritrea says those regions are within its own territory, citing turn-of-the century treaties between Italian colonizers of Eritrea and the Ethiopian emperor  (see Map of disputed areas: Ethiopia's claim on Eritrean land -Shaded Black Italian maps from the 1930s ) .
    On the surface, the conflict centers on a rocky 160-square-mile triangle of land which both countries claim. But the deeper cause of the conflict, diplomats and businessmen say, is economic.

see The Economic Causes and Implications of the Ethio-Eritrean War from Ethiopian Commentator
Some abstracts
However, the root cause of the present Ethio-Eritrean hostilities can be traced back to the decision by the international community led by the U.S.A to permit the formal separation of the two regions which are not only historically and culturally closely bound together but also are economically highly interdependent. ......
The most important economic stakes for Ethiopia are the port of Assab and claims on any potential oil reserves in the Red Sea..... Ethiopia would really gain if it could recover its own access to the sea.....  Ethiopia army is engaged in fighting with the Eritrean armed forces: a) to repulse outside aggression, b) to recapture Ethiopian territory invaded by Eritrea and c) to demonstrate to the Ethiopian people that it is getting rid of EPLF dictation from Asmara.. However, these constitute only the minimum Ethiopian military objective as Ethiopia's greatest loss in the civil war was the port of Assab which had provided the country's own vital access to the sea.

Eritrean and Ethiopian news

Press Releases from Eritrean Embassy
Eritrean Gov Statements
Newsflashes From the Ethiopian Embassy
Ethiopian News
The Addis Tribune Home Page
Ethiopian News Agency
Eritrean Network Information Center

(go to webforum)
Statement By Ethiopia  to  OAU
Statement By Eritrean  to OAU

          The ultimate fates of EthiopiaWB01637_.gif (294 bytes) and EritreaWB01637_.gif (294 bytes) are inevitably intertwined. For economic reasons, Ethiopia needs to preserve its access to Eritrean ports, and Eritrea needs food from Ethiopia as well as the revenue and jobs that will be generated by acting as a transshipment point for Ethiopian goods.The Eritrean economy is dependent on Ethiopia for 67% of its exports and a large proportion of its imports, particularly food. The Eritrean government used to derive considerable income from Ethiopian trade passing through Massawa and Assab. Ethiopia has to worry about fuel with one refinery which it shares with Eritrea ( Assab refinery  in Assab &Aseb, Eritrea ).But, in January, Ethiopia stopped buying its gasoline from Assab, instead buying refined oil directly from producers. Further, Ethiopian traders were ordered by the government to trade with the port in nearby Djibouti, bypassing Eritrea.
Ashanti Exploration and Ezana Mining Development are prospecting for gold in the Tigre region ( Administrative map ).

Military balance

  Ethiopia's population of 60 million outnumbers Eritrea's by 15 to one. But Eritreans have been hardened by a 30 year war of liberation and have a formidable fighting record.
  Both countries retain large standing armies an the area is awash with tanks, artillery and aircraft provided by the former Soviet block and recently US. Ethiopia’s army outnumbers Eritrea’s 40,000-strong force by about 3-to-1.   The Eritreans spent $80 million on defence last year compared with Ethiopia's expenditure of $127 million.

   The Italians, Israelis and Americans have all helped with training. The Israelis and Americans have been helping both countries to rearm. If Ethiopia and Eritrea allow their border conflict to get any worse, they have the hardware to wage a very serious war and   hundreds of thousands of citizens capable of slotting into their regular armies (the border state of Tigray in Ethiopia, closest to the conflict, has thousands of veterans), drawing on their years of experience as guerrilla fighters against Mengistu's massive army.

  Outside interests
  Both Ethiopia and Eritrea have received considerable backing from Washington as part of its policy to pressure the Islamic government in SudanWB01637_.gif (294 bytes). Eritrea officially supports Sudanese rebels.Senior U.S. officials are concern that a drawn-out conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea will undermine the U.S.-financed informal alliance of countries headed by former rebels that is the cornerstone of the policy. These countries include Christian Ethiopia, Eritrea, Uganda and Rwanda.

  During its short history as an independent state, Eritrea has come close to war with Yemen WB01637_.gif (294 bytes)over islands in the Red Sea and has squared up to tiny DjiboutiWB01637_.gif (294 bytes) over another dispute.
(see Sudan - Eritrea : Early warning note and International Boundary News Database  )

Inside interests: (conflicts involving communal groups)
Meles member of the northern Tigray minority who has promoted ethnic-based federalism and pays lip service to a multiparty system, has been harshly criticized by Ethiopia's majority Amharas and Oromos for giving up Eritrea -- and its Red Sea ports of Assab and Massawa -- in return for Isaias' help. 
Afars live in Ethiopia and Djibouti (35%) in addition to Eritrea .The Afar populations were most directly affected by the separation of Eritrea from the Ethiopian state. Many Afars were reluctant to accept an independent Eritrea since it divides their people between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Some Afars may now feel that they can only expect to fulfil their aspirations of unity through armed conflict like that taking place in Djibouti over similar issues.  Since they are a nomadic people, their lifestyle requires seasonal movements, and since they have been used to moving throughout the region, the creation of national boundaries over the past few years has negatively affected their quality of life. WB01637_.gif (294 bytes)   Ethiopia's new policy of ethnic federalism opens an unprecedented opportunity to the Afar people to leave behind the chronic instability, economic stagnation, and neglect that have characterised the region's past. The Ethiopia's Afar population is today consolidated for the first time within a single province with autonomous powers of self-government.


Conclusion: If Ethiopian military objectives are to repulse outside aggression and to recapture Ethiopian territory invaded by Eritrea, peace negociations still remain possible.  But if Ethiopian military objective is to capture the port of Assab in order to recover its own access to the sea, we are certainly at the beginning of a long, costly and destructive war!!....

Basic Information

Eritrea (source factbook)

3,589,687 (July 1997 est.)
GDP - per capita: purchasing power parity - $570 (1995 est.)
Ethnic groups: ethnic Tigrinya 50%, Tigre and Kunama 40%, Afar 4%, Saho (Red Sea coast dwellers) 3%
Note:Tigrinya : 1,900,000 in Eritrea ; 4,150,000 in Ethiopia ; 10,000 in Israel Afar : 300,000 in Eritrea ; 450,000 Ethiopia ; 300,000 in Djibouti (see ethnologue)
Religions: Muslim, Coptic Christian, Roman Catholic, Protestant
Languages: Afar, Amharic, Arabic, Italian, Tigre and Kunama, Tigrinya, minor tribal languages
Natural resources: gold, potash, zinc, copper, salt, probably oil (petroleum geologists are prospecting for it), fish
Administrative divisions: 8 provinces (singular - awraja); Akele Guzay, Barka, Denkel, Hamasen, Sahil, Semhar, Senhit, Seraye
note: in May 1995 the National Assembly adopted a resolution stating that the administrative structure of Eritrea, which had been established by former colonial powers, would consist of only six provinces when the new constitution, then being drafted, would go into effect sometime in 1998; the new provinces   are: Anseba, Debub, Debubawi, Gash-Barka, Maakel, and Semanawi Keyih Bahri .
chief of state: President ISAIAS Afworki (since 8 June 1993);The president is both the chief of state and head of government
Political parties and leaders: People's Front for Democracy and Justice or PFDJ, the only party recognized by the government [ISAIAS Afworki, PETROS Solomon]

Political pressure groups and leaders: Eritrean Islamic Jihad or EIJ; Eritrean Liberation Front or ELF [ABDULLAH Muhammed]; Eritrean Liberation Front - United Organization or ELF-UO [Mohammed Said NAWUD]; Eritrean Liberation Front - Revolutionary Council or ELF-RC [Ahmed NASSER]
Disputes - international: a dispute with Yemen over sovereignty of the Hanish Islands in the southern Red Sea has been submitted to arbitration under the auspices of the ICJ

Ethiopia (source factbook)

Population: 58,732,577 (July 1997 est.)
GDP - per capita: purchasing power parity - $430 (1995 est.)
Coastline: 0 km (landlocked)
Natural resources: small reserves of gold, platinum, copper, potash
Ethnic groups: Oromo 40%, Amhara and Tigrean 32%, Sidamo 9%, Shankella 6%, Somali 6%, Afar 4%, Gurage 2%, other 1%
Religions: Muslim 45%-50%, Ethiopian Orthodox 35%-40%, animist 12%, other 3%-8%
Languages: Amharic (official), Tigrinya, Orominga, Guaraginga, Somali, Arabic, English (major foreign language taught in schools)
Administrative divisions: 9 ethnically-based administrative regions (astedader akababiwach, singular - astedader akababi) and 1 federal capital*: Addis Ababa*; Afar; Amhara; Benshangul/Gumaz; Gambela; Harar; Oromia; Somali; Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples; Tigray
chief of state : President NEGASSO Gidada (since 22 August 1995)
head of government: Prime Minister MELES Zenawi (since NA August 1995)
Political parties and leaders: Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front or EPRDF [MELES Zenawi]

Political pressure groups and leaders: Oromo Liberation Front or OLF; All Amhara People's Organization; Southern Ethiopia People's Democratic Coalition; numerous small, ethnic-based groups have formed since MENGISTU'S resignation, including several Islamic militant groups

Other references

Library of Congress under the Country Studies/Area Handbook Ethiopia
Political Resources on the Net - Ethiopia
Political Resources on the Net - Eritrea

University of Pennsylvania Ethiopia Page Eritrea Page
Eritrean Govenment Home Page
Eritrean History & Culture

Map (big) & Ethiopia & Eritrea &Eritrea Political map Physical ma & Ethiopia Political map physical map
Refugee Map

Background Information

1557 Ottoman Turks set foot on Eritrean soil


Anglo-Egyptian expansionists (1865-1876)
1885 Italian colonialization (1885-1941),
February 5, 1885 Italian troops occupied Massawa
January 1,1890 Italy declared its occupied territory to be a colony in East Africa
1941 British colonialization (1941-1952)
1943 The United States leased Kagnew (communications base in Asmara) from the Britin. After Eritrea was forced into the federation with Ethiopia, in 1953, the US signed a 25-year economic and military aid agreement with Ethiopia to secure the base.
February 10, 1945 USA, USSR, Britain, and France approved a peace treaty with Italy. Under the terms of the peace treaty, Italy renounced its rights and titles! on its former colonies. The future of the former colonies was to be decided by the four powers within a year. Article 23 of the treaty and its Annex XI(3) called on the United Nations to settle the question of the disposal of the former Italian colonies as a whole, If the four powers should fail to agree by the deadline of September 15, 1948.
1950 The future of Eritrea was being debated at the UN (without the presence of an Eritrean representative)
1952 Ethiopian colonialization
1957 Tigrinya and Arabic were drooped as the official languages of Eritrea to be replaced by Amharic
1958 Formation of the Eritrean Liberation Movement (ELM, "Haraka")
September 1, 1961 Birth of Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) and armed strugle
1962 Ethiopia unilaterally dissolved the federation and  annexed Eritrea.
May 24, 1991 Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) marched into the capital Asmara on.(Liberation Day)
1993 Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993
1997 Relations sour when Eritrea introduces its own currency.
May 6, 1998   Eritrean troops took over the border town of Badame, southwest of Asmara, after a skirmish between Ethiopian police units and armed men from Eritrea, according to Ethiopian officials.
June, 1998  A border dispute escalates into bombing raids between the nations.