Speech by

HE Meles Zenawi, Prime Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia

to

Members of the House of Peoples Representatives

on the Ethiopia - Eritrea Border Issue

 

25th November 2004

 

 

Honorable Speaker,

Honorable Members of the House of Representatives.

 

It has been quite a while since we declared war on poverty and backwardness to attain economic development, the democratic order and good governance.  We did so, as widely known, out of the conviction that these are indeed the main enemies of the people of Ethiopia.  In particular, since the onset of the reform process within the ruling party, everything we have been doing in our  country has been subordinated to this objective and we have, upon the decision of the party, devoted all our efforts to the struggle against poverty, underdevelopment and backwardness in all its manifestations.

 

In order to ensure that our struggle would achieve its objectives, we have adopted policies and strategies which have been enriched by the people.  We have also made a great effort to develop, with our development partners, a common position or a not too divergent one from theirs, on these issues.  Accordingly, we have now come to a stage where our entire people and our development partners are confident that the strategies, policies and objectives we have laid out could enable us to free our country from poverty and underdevelopment and to create conditions in which democracy and good governance can thrive. 

 

After a broad consensus was reached to meet, at least partly, the aspiration of the Ethiopian people by prevailing in the fight against poverty and backwardness and by ensuring the prevalence of democracy and good governance, the effort to achieve our objectives is being pursued on all fronts by our people, the major force for our development, by government institutions and by our country’s developmental entrepreneurs.  On their part, our external development partners have reaffirmed their interest in co-operating with us by opening up their markets, by encouraging the flow of private investment and by strengthening their support in respect to loans and aid.  Through our joint efforts, we have managed, last year, to achieve growth rate which was very encouraging.  It is expected that this year as well the result will be a repeat of last year's achievement.  In short, the road map that we have laid out for development and good governance has already started to bear fruits. This gives us hope for the future.

 

The Government is very much encouraged by these results.  Hence, it is determined to devote all its efforts to activities related to our development and to good governance.  That this is also the wish and aspiration of the Ethiopian people is to be witnessed, not by what is expressed in words, but also by what is carried out by our people in practice, day in and day out.  No doubt that it is also the desire of our external partners to see that these encouraging efforts continue with greater determination and commitment.

 

While the foregoing expresses our aspiration and our commitment, it remains the case, nonetheless, that we have indeed encountered, problems which could distract us from our objectives and which, in fact, not resolved in time, could altogether derail us, off track. One such problem which continues to cast an ominous shadow on our effort is the yet unresolved problem between Ethiopia and Eritrea.  Hence, this report that I am presenting to the House today focuses on this problem between the two countries.

 

The House knows full well and in detail the genesis of the problem between Ethiopia and Eritrea as well as where we are today in the process aimed at resolving the dispute.  Nonetheless, I believe it would be useful to highlight, briefly, the major elements involved in the process.  The result of the thirty-year war between Ethiopia and Eritrea entailed an enormous loss both in human terms and in resources, for both.  This led to a situation whereby it was no longer open to debate that the problem could only be solved by the decision of the Eritrean people and by them exercising their rights to self-determination.

 

Accordingly, our Government beginning from the period of transition has demonstrated its preparedness to see to it that the problem is resolved by the Ertirean people exercising their right, which they did eventually through a referendum.  Once it was made clear by the referendum that the wish of the Eritrean people was to establish an independent state, Ethiopia accepted this decision with no qualms and became the first country to accept Eritrea's independence.  But our Government did not limit itself to accepting the independence of Eritrea.  Going beyond this, it did its best and all that was necessary so that there would be good neighborliness between the two countries and the brotherhood between both peoples would be strengthened.  These efforts did have some encouraging results during the first few years after Eritrea gained into independence.  As a result, we all recall that it was possible, during those years, to establish good neighborly relations between the two countries.

 

However, it soon transpired that misunderstandings were cropping up between the two countries and these also began to even get gradually worse.  The reason for this had to do with the inappropriate position taken by Eritrea in connection with the need to make the economic relations between the two countries serve the mutual interest of both.  The Eritrean Government did not attempt to defuse the problem.  Instead, most particularly beginning from around September 1997, it began embarking on a major propaganda offensive meant to aggravate the problem and thereby encouraging the escalation of tension between the two countries.  The Government of Ethiopia did not want to engage in tit for tat exercise and to respond in kind.  Even going beyond that it did issue various statements aimed at defusing the problem, but to no avail.  Despite Ethiopia's effort the situation continued to grow even worse, eventually reaching the stage whereby the Eritrean Government mounted, in May 1998 a flagrant aggression against Ethiopia.

 

Following the aggression, the Government submitted the matter to the House of Peoples' Representatives, including a proposal relating to the origin of the problem and to its possible resolution.  After a careful consideration of the matter, the House resolved that the aggression by Eritrea should be reversed.  It emphasized that this should be done peacefully, if possible.  If the reversal of the aggression could not be achieved peacefully, the House decided that the Government should resort to whatever means necessary to ensure that the aggression is reversed.

 

Basing itself on the decision by the House, the Government proceeded, on one hand, to make the necessary preparation should it be necessary to reverse the aggression by non-peaceful means while, on the other, deploying the necessary effort to seek a peaceful solution. The first attempt at peace making was made by Rwanda and the United States who, after having made a series of efforts to resolve the problem peacefully, submitted a proposal which, among other things, called on Eritrea to withdraw from areas it had occupied by force and also for the resolution of the boundary dispute legally.  Ethiopia accepted the proposal immediately while Eritrea refused to do so.  Subsequently, the OAU did submit a similar proposal for peace which again Ethiopia accepted but Eritrea rejected.  Because the peace efforts were derailed as indicated in the foregoing, the result was a war between the two countries which was enormously costly both in human and material terms.  It was through this means that it was possible to push the Eritrean Government out of the areas that it had occupied by force.

 

Since our objective has always been to seek a durable and peaceful solution to the problem, having reversed the aggression, we withdrew out of our own volition, from Eritrean territory which we came to occupy in the course of reversing the aggression.  We did not stop there.  Continuing with our effort for peace, we proceeded to accept and sign the Algiers Agreement.  Following this, various steps were taken pursuant to the Agreement.  One such step was the setting up of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission with the view of finding a lasting solution to the boundary dispute.  Having conducted its activities for a limited period of time, the Commission came up with its delimitation decision in April 2002 and informed the parties accordingly.  This initial decision of the Commission contained maps that outlined the boundary. It was clearly indicated in the document that the points put on the map to help trace the boundary were provisional and that they would be refined by detailed survey of the situation on the ground.  Since the decision was a fairly reasonable one, it was not difficult for both parties to accept it, as in fact they did, and it was felt by all that conditions for the implementation of the decision were also good.

 

Nevertheless, after a while it became clear that the Commission was not respecting its own decision with respect to the points on the map being provisional and, in fact, reversed its position on the need to study in detail, the situation on the ground.  In short, violating its own decision, the Commission made it known that the provisional lines would not be tampered with and that there would be no survey on the ground to ascertain the local reality.  Thus, based on this unjust and unfair approach, the Commission proceeded to elaborate its position in an observation whose practical result is not only to split up villages, but also to literally divide homesteads down the middle, each part slated to be administered by one of the parties.  The result of this Observation by the Commission was to complicate a process which had begun to show some positive signs.

 

The decision was manifestly unjust and illegal.  Accordingly, the Government of Ethiopia felt compelled to express at the time its opposition to the commissions’ illegal and unjust decision. It is the conviction of the Government that it is proper and necessary to oppose decisions which are unjust and illegal.  However, it is also of the view that this decision would not be the first or the last unfair and illegal decision.  The possibility is wide open for encountering, in the future, similar unjust, unfair and illegal decisions.  The Government is, therefore, cognizant that in the interest of considerations of greater value, situations might sometimes demand that, while continuing to express one's opposition to illegal decisions that one proceeds to implement them and that also doing so would be proper and imperative.

 

It was not because the Government was unaware of what is stated in the foregoing that, going beyond opposing the decision, it had insisted that the decision could not be implemented, as is.  The reason for the Government's opposition to the implementation of the decision as is was related to its concern that any attempt to implement the decision unaltered could undermine the peace between the two countries which is yet precarious and not all that dependable. The Ethiopian Government was prompted to seek better solutions because it was convinced that this type of lopsided decision could even affect the peace between countries that are friendly, let alone that of those like Ethiopia and Eritrea whose relations are already marked by a great deal of tension and uncertainty.

 

Peace is always the strategic goal of the Government of Ethiopia.  Accordingly, with the view to realizing this goal with Eritrea, we have made various efforts to resolve the dispute peacefully.  This we did, by indicating clearly, that we would always be looking for implementation mechanisms that would be appropriate to the situation. Not only has our Government made clear its preparedness to engage the Government of Eritrea in a dialogue, but it has also made all the necessary efforts to make this known to the Ethiopian and the Eritrean peoples, as well as to the international community at large.  This effort, on our part, has elicited various responses from different quarters over the last few months.

 

Our Government, convinced that conflict and bloodshed between the two countries, should be avoided, has proposed dialogue between the two parties aimed at achieving lasting peace.  The Government of Eritrea has not so far responded favorably to this Ethiopian invitation for dialogue for peace.  On the contrary, the major effort of the Eritrean Government has been to try to mobilize ill-will against Ethiopia internationally by portraying our country as the one that has defied and violated a valid legal decision.  The objective has not been to contribute to the relaxation of tension between the two countries. But rather, to fan it through extensive hostile propaganda.  Moreover, it has also engaged in various provocative efforts.  It has furthermore tried to use the Eritrean people as an instrument to advance the same objective.  This it has tried to do by insisting that Ethiopia has denied to Eritrea what has been given to it by a court of law.  In all the statements it has issued so far, it has made it clear that it is not ready to resolve the problem through dialogue and negotiation.

 

The Ethiopian people and Government have made it clear that while, on the one hand, we will always remain vigilant to defend the country and enhance its defensive capability for that purpose, we on the other, demonstrated our unwillingness to go to war with Eritrea or with any other country. On the contrary, given all desire to avoid all situations that would detract us from our major goal of fighting poverty, our approach has focused on resolving all issues by exercising patience, through give and take and through principled dialogue and negotiation.  We have also reaffirmed, through a variety of ways, to continue pursuing the ongoing effort for peace.

 

The international community has supported dialogue between the two countries.  It has done so out of the realization that the implementation of the decision, as is, might undermine peace between the two countries and is also based on its conviction that the fundamental differences between the two countries should be resolved through peaceful means only.  Hence, the effort that the Government of Eritrea has made to drive a wedge between Ethiopia and the international community has completely failed.  On the other hand, the international community has nonetheless been asking Ethiopia not to appear to be violating the decision of a court and not to seem to be defying international law, and demanding, in this regard, that Ethiopia declare its acceptance of the decision of the Commission.  As a result of the confusion surrounding Ethiopia's position, it has been difficult for the international community to support aggressively the proposal made by Ethiopia for dialogue between the two countries.  This has been expressed by the international community in various ways.

 

In the same way as the people of Ethiopia, the Eritrean people as well have shown that it is their deep desire to see the resolution of the problem peacefully.  But various sources indicate that a more enhanced struggle for peace on the part of the people of Eritrea has been hampered by Ethiopia's unwillingness to accept the erroneous decision of the Commission. The uninterrupted propaganda waged by the Government of Eritrea has also made it difficult for the Eritrean people to understand the position of Ethiopia fully and correctly.

 

In short, it is now clear that the plan that we have outlined to achieve our objective for peace has faced the strong opposition of the Government of Eritrea and, moreover, even though the major forces for peace do realize our efforts for peace, they have been unable to support these efforts with all their power because of various difficulties.  It is now clear that the proposal for peace that we have submitted earlier has not managed to secure the desired sustainable and durable peace.  Hence, it has now become imperative to seek a peace proposal which takes into account current realities and which will help motivate those that are forces for peace.  It has become necessary to rectify those aspects of the original peace proposal, that have had the effect of undermining the efforts of those committed to peace, and to present a new proposal which would help strengthen the struggle for peace.

 

The Government of Ethiopia has been examining the situation continuously.  It has undertaken studies and consultations for a long time, with the view to replacing implementation modalities that have not been effective with those that could be more effective.  The result has been the preparation of a five-point peace proposal which it is hoped would carry our peace effort into a new and a more productive chapter.  The following is the substance of the five-point peace plan proposed by the Government:

 

 

  1. Resolve the dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea only  and only through peaceful means.

 

It is unavoidable that misunderstandings would always occur between countries.  The point, however, is to resolve problems whenever they happen in a civilized manner, peacefully, through dialogue and negotiation based on the principles of give and take.  It is only when resorting to force is ruled out, as an alternative means of resolving disputes, that it would be possible to realize durable and sustainable peace.  It is in this spirit that one should approach the dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea.  It cannot be doubted that the peace between the two countries can be made durable and sustainable if both are ready to resolve all problems, whatsoever, peacefully and through dialogue and negotiation.  Unless this spirit is adopted, it would also be difficult to resolve the problems we now face.  Even if the present problems were to be resolved by some other means, unless there is readiness to resolve problems peacefully and through dialogue, war and conflict will continue to be great possibilities whenever new problems arise.  Accordingly, the best option we have is to rule out the use of force as a means of resolving problems, once and for all, and to address problems and disputes through peaceful means only.  Hence, resolving the dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea only through peaceful means is the first point of our five-point peace proposal.

 

 

  1. Resolve the Root Causes of the Conflict Through Dialogue With the View to Normalizing Relations Between the Two Countries.

 

No matter what is done, unless there is a relaxation of tension between the two countries -- tension which at present is rather high--  it would be impossible to achieve reliable and lasting peace between them.  The tension between the two countries can be diffused only when the underlying problems that caused the tension are addressed.  Resolving all sources of problems between the two countries through dialogue and thus creating conditions for normalization in the relations between them is the only guarantee for durable and sustainable peace.  This is becoming more obvious today than ever before.

 

It is clear that because of the recent war and the sources related to the war, relations between the two countries at present, even at the people to people level, are very much marred by misunderstanding.  Moreover, it is manifest that trust is indeed lacking between the two Governments.  This fact is bound to be an obstacle to the normalization of relations between the two countries.  On the other hand, no one has been able to change, and none will be able to change in the future, the fact that these are two brotherly peoples.  Durable and sustainable peace is moreover in the mutual interest of the two peoples.  Normalization and good neighbourliness between the two countries is in the interest of peace and in their mutual interest.  This is incontrovertible. Thus, regardless of the misunderstanding between them and the lack of mutual trust, it is the responsibility of the two Governments to give priority to the desire of their peoples and to choose the peaceful path.  It is precisely because of this that the Government of Ethiopia is demonstrating preparedness to resolve the sources of misunderstanding between the two countries through dialogue and to contribute to the normalization of relations between them.

 

 

  1. Ethiopia Accepts, in Principle, the Ethiopia-Eritrea Boundary Commission Decision.

 

As already indicated, it is obvious that the decision of the Commission is indeed illegal and unjust.  It is appropriate and necessary to oppose the decision as unjust and illegal.  However, this matter is not more important than peace.  In light of the struggle we are engaged in for development and good governance, it is imperative that all those that could become obstacles to the realization of these major objectives are subordinated to the need for the achievement of those objectives, as well as to the objective of peace.  In fact, peace has been the starting point and the premise of the position that the Government of Ethiopia has been advancing so far.  Nor was our earlier position totally without merit.  But it had great limitations in so far as it did not enable the forces of peace to support our adjenda for peace with all their energy.

 

Though the people of Ethiopia did strongly support the Government's peace plan, there have been indications, nonetheless, that they have had concerns about the effect that Ethiopia's position might have on the credibility of the country.  In order also to avert this danger and to make it possible for the Ethiopian people to support the Government's peace agenda wholeheartedly, with full confidence in the Government's commitment to peace and in its readiness to adopt the necessary decision for peace, no matter how difficult they might be, it has been decided that it would be useful and proper to accept, in principle, the decision of the Boundary Commission.

 

It is obvious that the people of Eritrea have their own unique role to play in ensuring durable and sustainable peace between the two countries.  It must be assumed that now that Ethiopia has accepted, in principle, the decision of the Boundary Commission, together with the other points contained in the five-point peace proposal, it will help the Eritrean people to understand Ethiopia's full commitment to peace.  It has thus been felt necessary and useful to adjust and modify our position with the hope that this will make a great contribution to making our peace agenda more robust and effective. 

 

It is to be noted that the Government of Eritrea has refused to respond favorably to our call for peace giving, as justification for its refusal, Ethiopia's unwillingness to accept the decision of the Commission.  Moreover, using the same justification it has proceeded to weaken the effort by the Eritrean people for peace. Furthermore, to undermine the attempt by the international community to support dialogue between the two countries, arguing doing so has no legal bases. On the other hand, if indeed the Government of Eritrea's major objection to Ethiopia's proposal is linked, in a genuine way, to the question of accepting or not accepting the decision of the Commission, then, ipso facto, our acceptance, in principle, of the decision of the Commission, should make it possible to remove the basis for the objection and thus make the Government of Eritrea ready for peace.  On the contrary, if the objection of the Government of Eritrea to engaging the Government of Ethiopia for peace has nothing to do with accepting or not accepting the decision of the Commission, and that the source of the objection is rather the anti-peace agenda of the Government of Eritrea, then our new approach and our new peace plan will serve to expose this situation more clearly.  Either way, accepting in principle the decision of the Commission should be deemed necessary and useful.

 

Though it has given its support for the resolution of the problem through dialogue, and though it has also encouraged the development efforts of Ethiopia, it has been clear, nonetheless, that the international community on its part, has indeed felt that Ethiopia's position might create an obstacle to the realization of peace.  The fact that now Ethiopia has accepted the decision, in principle, should also help to remove this concern of the international community.  Hence, it is appropriate for Ethiopia to adjust its position and accept, in Principle, the decision of the Boundary Commission.

 

 

  1. Ethiopia Agrees to Pay Its Dues to The Ethiopia-Eritrea Boundary Commission and to Appoint Field Liaison Officers

 

It is obvious that Ethiopia has an obligation to contribute its share to cover the expenses of the Ethiopia-Eritrea Boundary Commission.  Accordingly, Ethiopia has been paying its contribution, for a long time, following the commencement of the work of the Commission.  However, Ethiopia's payment was interrupted following, and linked to, the handing down by the Commission of its unjust and illegal decision. Likewise, although it was expected of Ethiopia to designate liaison officers who would be working on sites along the border, along with experts to be deployed by the Commission, this was also not carried out by Ethiopia because of the complications arising from the decision of the Commission.

 

At present, in line with Ethiopia's acceptance, in principle, of the decision of the Commission and consistent with its new position that it would, in this regard, adjust its stand, the payment of its dues to the Commission, and the designation of field liaison officers, are steps that would be appropriate to take.  Thus, this has also become one facet of our five-point peace proposal.

 

 

  1. Start Dialogue Immediately with the view to implementing the Ethiopia-Eritrea Boundary Commission's decision in a manner consistent with the Promotion of Sustainable Peace and Brotherly Ties between the Two Peoples.

 

As has already been explained, the attempt to implement the decision of the Boundary Commission, as is, might lead to a serious escalation, of the tension between the two countries and thereby undermine the peace.  The acceptance of the decision in principle, and then proceeding with implementation in a manner consistent with durable and sustainable peace and, in this connection, making adjustment as and when necessary in the course of implementation, is an internationally accepted demarcation practice.  It is necessary, in this regard, for an understanding to be reached between the two parties for the implementation to be carried out in this spirit.  In order to proceed accordingly there is a need for a dialogue to be conducted between the two parties swiftly.  In the course of the dialogue, it is critical that the negotiations take into account, and the resulting agreement be based on, two key considerations:  the acceptance by Ethiopia, in principle, of the decision of the Commission, on one hand, and adherence to the principle of give and take in the course of implementing the decision, on, the other.  Hence, the commencement of dialogue, swiftly, to ensure that the implementation would be conducted in the spirit outlined above, is made an integral part of our five-point peace proposal.

  

 

Honorable Speaker,

Honorable members of the House,

 

I believe that the peace proposal that I have just outlined would serve to economically promote our country's agenda with respect to development and good governance.  I am confident that it would also create for us an additional capacity for realizing peace, which is our permanent strategic goal.

 

It is my conviction that if there is indeed a desire for peace on the part of the Government of Eritrea, there is no doubt that since the proposal we are presenting shows our preparedness to go more than half way for peace, this initiative will make a great contribution for peace in our sub-region.  It is also my judgment that this peace proposal would help the international community appreciate more fully Ethiopia's peace agenda, and to support the same more effectively.  Accordingly, I would like, therefore, to respectfully submit the five-point peace proposal to the House of people’s Representatives for its consideration and approval.

 

It is not assumed that the approval by the House of this peace proposal would constitute the end of our struggle for peace.  It will be necessary to explain our position to the Ethiopian and Eritrean peoples as well as to the international Community so as to strengthen their own efforts for peace.  We will continue to struggle in order to bring about the readiness of the Eritrean Government for dialogue, realizing the great effort we have been making for peace, which includes making very difficult decisions.

 

If the House approves the peace plan, the Government is already well prepared to undertake, with redoubled efforts, the tasks outlined above.  I remain confident that in these areas as well, the House would also make a great contribution

 

I thank you