Eritrea Calls Ethiopia’s New Stance a ‘Declaration of War’

Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki
Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki

By William Davison, (Bloomberg) – Eritrea criticized Ethiopia’s new stance on relations between the two countries as “pure aggression and a declaration of war” and denied it supports terrorism.

Ethiopia’s government on April 15 announced it will increase support to Eritrean rebels seeking to overthrow the government of President Isaias Afewerki. The country will use “any means at its disposal” to bring about regime change unless the Eritrean government changes its policies, the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry said.

The two countries fought a 1998-2000 border war that killed 70,000 people, according to Brussels-based International Crisis Group. Relations between the two have remained tense as each backed opposing factions in nearby Somalia’s civil war. Skirmishes between Ethiopian and Eritrean troops occasionally break out along their 912-kilometer (567-mile) border. Ethiopia previously accused Eritrea of supporting Ethiopian rebels and al-Qaeda-linked insurgents in neighboring Somalia.

“Eritrea does not have an agenda of destabilizing Ethiopia or the region,” Girma Asmerom, Eritrea’s ambassador to the African Union, said to the 53-member continental bloc’s security panel on April 26.

Accusations of Eritrean support for terrorism are “fabricated and baseless,” he said. “It is not in our psyche, our culture, our philosophy, our upbringing, our value and our history to attack civilian targets, victimize and terrorize innocent people.”

Bombing Attempt

In February, Ethiopia said it foiled an attempt by the rebel Oromo Liberation Front to bomb an AU summit in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital. Ethiopia accuses Eritrea of backing the front.

Eritrea’s “destabilization activities against other countries in the region, including Ethiopia, continue unabated,” the Foreign Ministry said.

Eritrea has been under United Nations sanctions since December 2009 for its alleged support of terrorists fighting to topple the Western-backed government of Somalia. Eritrea’s Foreign Ministry says the sanctions are “unjustifiable.”

The international community should condemn the aggression by the Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s government and call for its withdrawal from Eritrean territory, Girma said.

Isaias and Meles led allied rebel groups that overthrew Ethiopia’s Communist Derg regime in 1991. Eritrea, formerly an Ethiopian province, won independence after a 1993 referendum. A 2002 decision by a United Nations commission that the disputed town of Badme is Eritrean has been rejected by Ethiopia.

“Eritrea is ready to normalize relations with Ethiopia” if Ethiopia vacates its territory, Girma said.

To contact the reporter on this story: William Davison in Addis Ababa via Nairobi at pmrichardson@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Richardson in Nairobi at pmrichardson@bloomberg.net.