On the 12th of June, the Eritrean Ministry of Information published a statement alleging an attack on the Eritrean army in Tsorona by the Ethiopian government.
The statement read, “The TPLF regime has today, Sunday 12 June 2016 unleashed an attack against Eritrea on the Tsorona Central Front. The purpose and ramifications of this attack are not clear. The Government of Eritrea will issue further statements on the unfolding situation.”
Tsorona is a village located near the border, some thirty-five kilometres from Adigrat, an Ethiopian town in the region of Tigray. The fight came a full sixteen years after the Algiers peace agreement brought the hostilities in the region to an end after a two year stand-off between the countries. Eritrea gained its independence from Ethiopia in 1991 after a long civil war.
That there was a stand-off in Tsorona is not an issue but what remains the bone of contention is who started it. The leaders of the two countries are failing to be honest enough to proffer a solid answer without unreasonably justifying themselves. The Ethiopian Communications Minister, Getachew Reda said Eritrean forces from around the Tsorona region made unusual, aggressive movements, eliciting a response from Ethiopia.
He said, “It’s just a skirmish because Eritrea’s side moved in a fashion that is unusual under the circumstances because it’s been a long time since Eritrea’s regular army even ventured outside of their ditches, their trenches but this time around, they launched what appears to be a serious attack, but our forces had launched a counterattack which right now has managed to neutralize the threat emanating from the other side of the border.”
He further alleged to the Voice of America that, “The Eritrean artillery units are making indiscriminate bombardment of the area so it will be a very responsible move for us to tell some of our people, especially those who are close to the border to evacuate, not to evacuate in a sense of leaving their village but to a safer area.”
The two parties have been casting blame and even now, it is hard to tell the aggressor from the victim. The Eritrean Information Minister, Yemane G. Meskel tweeted on the 13th of June, “Bland statements calling on both sides to show restraint is unwarranted/toothless. TPLF’s act of aggression must be condemned unequivocally.”
The Minister also claimed the United States knew all the facts but was issuing fuzzy statements absolving the culprit (Ethiopia).
Ethiopia and Eritrea’s Actions a Disgrace?
Meskel’s attack on the United States came after the United States issued a statement calling on the two sides “to exercise restraint and engage in political dialogue” as the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement did not give room for a military solution to the presiding impasse. The issue that has caused the political stalemate in the region is the border yet an independent commission ruling clearly ironed out all the ambiguities. The ruling effectively put the town of Badme within Eritrea’s borders which Ethiopia did not accept and called for dialogue which Eritrea also rejected. The BBC says it is not clear why fighting broke out now but in recent times, both sides had “upped the rhetoric with the latest verbal salvo coming from Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki during celebrations to mark 25 years of the country’s independence”. Ethiopia’s Prime Minister is also on record saying Ethiopia would take “proportionate military action against Eritrea”. Could this be the action he spoke of? It is an insult to the whole institute of a civilized democratic society that two leaders decide to use force and violence to prove their points in 2016.
These two countries have been passing up chances to make peace in the last sixteen years and neither can claim to be absolutely innocent in the current conflagration. Ethiopia in particular has shown utter disdain for the international community by refusing to give up Badme and threatening military intervention to protect its interests.
It is in the face of such reckless acts carried out with impunity that Oddy Okonta, just another African passionately comments, “We must now start to behave with maturity and settle issues by peaceful means. Africa can surely do that. What Africa cannot and should not do is to fight some more. We are tired. We have suffered long enough through slavery to colonisation, corruption to famine, hunger and thirst, illiteracy to poor health. We are truly exhausted.”
Leaders in Eritrea and Ethiopia should start taking their citizens and the continent seriously. Military mind-sets are out of fashion and should be subjects of history not the reality of a modern Africa.