- Statement of the Eritrean Cabinet of Ministers in response to the statement by the Council of Ministers of the Federal Democratic Government of Ethiopia, May 1998
The Cabinet of Ministers of the Government of Eritrea has held a meeting in Asmara today, Thursday May 14, 1998, to consider the Statement issued by the Council of Ministers of the Federal Democratic Government of Ethiopia which accuses Eritrea for inciting conflict and hatred and pursuing a policy of territorial expansion; condemns Eritrea alleging that its army has invaded Ethiopian territory by crossing its borders; and warns that Ethiopia will take all the necessary measures to protect its territorial integrity.
The Government and people of Eritrea are greatly saddened by the tone and contents of these grave accusations.
The Cabinet of Ministers of the Government of Eritrea noted that there have been, and continue to exist, border disputes in certain localities along the common borders between Eritrea and Ethiopia. These problems have been instigated by the unlawful practices of the Ethiopian army which occasionally made incursions into these Eritrean territories; dismantling the local administrative structures and committing crimes against the inhabitants.
But despite these periodic occurrences, the Cabinet asserted that the Government of Eritrea has been consistently endeavouring to resolve these recurrent problems through bilateral negotiations with the Government of Ethiopia in a calm and patient manner; cautious for not inflating the problem out of proportions and incite animosity between the two fraternal peoples. The Government of Eritrea has opted for this course of action because it believes that the international boundary between Eritrea and Ethiopia is very clear and incontroversial. Because it knows that the recurrent border incursions that continue to be perpetrated by Ethiopian forces basically emanate from the narrow perspectives of the Administrative Zones.
The Cabinet of Ministers further noted that a Joint Committee had been formed from both governments to resolve these problems and to delineate on the ground the boundary line. The Cabinet of Ministers asserted that the Government of Eritrea has been exerting all the necessary efforts to expedite the process and facilitate the work of the Joint Committee.
But on Wednesday, May 6, 1998, and while the Eritrean delegation was on its way to Addis Abeba for a meeting of the Joint Committee to discuss ways and means for accelerating its work, Ethiopian army contingents that had already penetrated into Eritrean territory in the areas around Badme (south-western Eritrea) opened fire and caused grave damage on Eritrean units that attempted to approach them for dialogue. This unprovoked attack subsequently triggered a cycle of clashes in the area.
Furthermore, while continued talks were underway to resolve the tension provoked by the first attack, an appalling Statement aimed at sending an unnecessary message to the peoples of both countries and the international community was issued by the Council of Ministers of the Federal Democratic Government of Ethiopia.
The Cabinet of Ministers reiterates its firm belief that the enduring mutual interests that exist and bind together the peoples of Eritrea and Ethiopia cannot be jeopardised by any border dispute. The Cabinet of Ministers accordingly proposes the following framework as a solution to the problem that has been made to be blown out of proportions and derailed from its path.
1. The Government of Eritrea condemns the logic of force as it firmly knows and upholds that border disputes of any kind can only be resolved through peaceful and legal means; and not through military means.
2. On the basis of this principle, each party shall publicly announce to the peoples of Eritrea, Ethiopia and the international community the territories that it claims – if any – and designate them on the political map with clear geographical co-ordinates. Each party shall also accept that the dispute cannot, and should not be, resolved by force but through peaceful negotiations.
3. Both parties shall agree that all negotiations and understandings that will be conducted henceforth shall be carried out in the presence and through the mediation of a Third Party. The latter will act as witness and guarantor.
4. Areas under “dispute” shall be demilitarised temporarily and be free from the presence of armies of both countries. The enforcement of this understanding shall be guaranteed by the Third party.
5. If the above proposal for resolving the dispute through the involvement of a Third Party and without further complications is not acceptable, the matter to be referred to international adjudication.
The Government of Eritrea firmly believes that attempts to inflate the minor and temporary problem that has been created along the borders of the two sisterly countries will not serve the fundamental interests of the Eritrean and Ethiopian peoples. The Government of Eritrea pledges that it will, as ever before, spare no efforts to handle the present problem with the requisite patience and responsiblity. It does not, accordingly, see any wisdom in precipitating tension through inflammatory campaigns.
The Government of Eritrea therefore calls upon the Government of Ethiopia to pursue a similar path that will promote the interests and good neighbourliness of the peoples of both countries. The Cabinet of Ministers of the Government of Eritrea further reasserts its belief that the peoples of Eritrea and Ethiopia will maintain and preserve their mutual interests rooted in peace, good neighbourliness and cooperation.
Asmara, May 14, 1998