Saturday, December 8, 2012

Opening for Ethiopia-Eritrea Talks?

Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn in an interview with Al-Jazeera on 5 December 2012 said he is willing to go to Asmara to hold face-to-face talks with Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki over the deadlocked border dispute. This follows an offer the previous month by South Sudan to mediate the dispute.

It is not clear whether this is an opening for serious talks or posturing. In any event, there has not yet been any public response from the Eritrean side.

Click here to read the Al-Jazeera report and here to read the one in the Sudan Tribune.

1 comment:

  1. Talking to Eritrea
    Ethiopia’s former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi used to tell to the Parliament, visiting dignitaries, members of diplomatic community in Addis Ababa, and to different media outlets that Ethiopia would be happy to negotiate with Eritrea at any time, any where and at any level. This “any time, any where at any level” policy was linked to the stalemate that the two countries are at with regard to the implementation of the Ethiopian Eritrean Boundary Commission decision. Ethiopia wants to talk with Eritrea on what it calls the absurdities and anomalies of the decision of the Commission before getting into the demarcation process. Eritrea says demarcation must come first and normalization of relations can follow.

    In his December 5 interview at Al Jazeera, Prime Minister Hailemariam said he would travel to Asmara to sit down face to face and negotiate with President Issayas Afeworki. He further said that “ the most important thing for us is having regional integration. If we two, we do that, it will be much more productive.”

    There are now two new elements added to the policy formulated by the former Prime Minister. First, the agenda of the negotiation can include “any other issues” than the problem surrounding the implementation of the Boundary Commission Decision. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia, in its weekly electronic newsletter issued on December 7, 2012 also confirmed that Prime Minister Hailemariam is prepared to hold direct talks with Eritrean President, Isaias Afeworki “on any outstanding issues that exist between the two countries.” Second, Even though, Prime Minister Meles used to say that he would negotiate with Eritrea at any level, at any place, he was hardly specific that he himself would travel to Asmara to shake hands with the President of Eritrea.

    During the last couple of years however, Ethiopian Eritrean relations have added new dimensions that would make the “any where at any level policy” too difficult to pursue. Ethiopia’s claim that Eritrean intelligence services planned an operation to detonate car bombs in Addis Ababa during the African Union Summit in January 2011 was confirmed by the UN Monitoring Group on Eritrea and Somalia investigation report. Prime Minister Meles then told the Parliament that Ethiopia will reserve its right of proportional and reasonable use of force against Eritrea. In March 2012 Ethiopian forces went into Eritrean territory and destroyed military training camps, in response to killings and kidnappings of European tourists near the Ethiopian Eritrean border by forces who established their bases in side Eritrea. Eritrea’s request to rejoin Intergovernmental Authority on Development, regional association of Horn of African countries, has also been stalled on the ground that “Eritrea has not shown progress in its behavior.”

    Ethiopia needed Eritrea more to help in the peace processes in Sudan and Somalia. That is what Ethiopia meant when it says “If we two of us work together, it will be much more productive.” As the situations in the two countries, particularly in Sudan, have changed for the better, this policy is already obsolete. More important, with Ethiopia increasingly turning its face towards Kenya for both economic cooperation and regional peace, Eritrea’s importance to Ethiopia is fast diminishing.