Prime Minister Zenawee for al-Jezeera Channel:Nothing Stands against Eritrea’s Inclusion into the Sanna Axis for Cooperation if it Resolves all its Problems with its Neighbors

by Abdul hafiz Yassin Mohammed
Gulf Information Center


March9, 2005.

The Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawee has had an interview with the Qatar based al-Jezeera Channel on March 7, 2005, which was broadcast at 7:00 PM by Khartoum’s timing. In the interview Mr. Meles talked, among others, about the border conflict of his country with the state of Eritrea and Eritrea’s inclusion to the Sanna Axis for Cooperation and other points. He assured that the Sanna Axis for Cooperation would welcome Eritrea if it resolves all its differences with its neighbors and gives up its approach of using force. I have followed the interview, which was broadcast in Arabic, and decided to translate the part that deals with the Eritrean affairs into English for the service of the Eritrean reader who doesn’t know Arabic. The following are the excerpts of the interview.

Mr. Prime Minister, we would like to talk about the relationship between Eritrea and Ethiopia?  

It is a must, at the beginning, to understand that the boundary issue is very sensitive. Eritrea became independent by the fact of reality in the year 1990 and its independence became very legitimate after 1993. There had been no demarcated border between the two countries from 1993 until the eruption of the war in 1998 although we had maintained very distinct relations over the course of this time. However the time the other aspects of the mutual political and economic relations deteriorated, the border issue became very sensitive. We don’t look at the border issue as an accessory difference. Of course, the boundary issue is a very significant part of the problem; but our difference with Eritrea is not only over the border issue. We have waged a very miserable war with Eritrea from 1998 to 2000; the time we signed the Algiers peace package that included, among others, an agreement to demarcate the border. We felt that the decision of the Boundary Demarcation Commission was unfortunate. And the Commission, it self, acknowledged that some aspects of its decision are not practical. As a result we requested, based on this, the Commission to handle this shortcoming.  Despite our acceptation for the resolution of the Commission, however, the Commission should be granted the necessary authorization to handle the unpractical aspects in its decision. The border issue is not the only problem, as I said, between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Therefore, we have to discuss the all- out aspects of the difference in order to have natural relations between the two countries. If we don’t conclude natural relations and if the tension situation, which we are living now, goes on, and as you know Eritrea and Ethiopia could be  the only countries  in the region which don’t have direct relations; this tension will be changed, sooner or later, into new series of violence between the two countries. As a result we have to demarcate the Boundary in coincidence with steps of normalization of relations between the two countries through dialogue. This is the principles, I depended on, the time I presented my proposal to the Ethiopian parliament which is supported by the international community.

You have talked about the other aspects of the relationship between Eritrea and Ethiopia. What are, in your opinion, these aspects regardless of the demarcation issue of the boundary?

They are basically economic issues. For instance, when Eritrea became independent, Ethiopia was the only country that recognized this independence. But due to this independence, Ethiopia became a land locked country with no access to sea. We were using the Eritrean ports; however what had happened was that the regulations of using these ports were not only changing every year but every month and every day against the Ethiopian interests. And Asmara had, at last, confiscated our prosperities in the Eritrean ports the time the border conflict erupted. This is one of the main causes of the tension between the two countries. Thus, we have to discuss this matter. There are no trade relations between the two countries; and the dwellers of villages, which are only some meters away from each others, along the two sides of the border are not able to cross the border. This tension has to be removed in order to have natural relations between the two countries.

However, after you have agreed to handover the village of Badmee to Eritrea, the Ethiopian opposition had escalated its stance and it considered that the agreement may threaten the unity of the Ethiopian lands. Do you consider these demands as a retreat from the agreement? Do they constitute an obstacle against concluding a final settlement with Eritrea?

I think there are two separate issues in this aspect. The first one concerns the decision of the Boundary Demarcation Commission. There are not only many villages, which have been divided, but there is a house whose one part is in Eritrea and the other is in Ethiopia; and this is unpractical decision. This is the cause which has compelled the Commission to acknowledge that there are some practical and realistic aspects which have to be discussed. As a result, this discussion has no any relation to the political opposition but to the demarcation of the border to enable the generations in Ethiopia and Eritrea to coexist peacefully. The other aspect concerns the orientation of some in Ethiopia towards the basic principle of the statehood of Eritrea. There are some Ethiopian groups and opposition parties which are not able to deal with the reality that Eritrea has become an independent state and its people enjoys sovereignty over its lands.  The ruling party and the government, as I have indicated earlier, were the first to recognize the independence of Eritrea; and we were happy that Eritreans were able to have their “say” through the referendum of self determination in order to have their own independent state. The opposition had tried many times on this matter; but I don’t think this will be an obstacle before normalization of relations between the two countries if the Eritrean party is ready to meet together on the midway in order to have relations like the one which extended from 1991 until 1998. The Ethiopian opposition, at the time, had opposed the independence of Eritrea and was against the relationship which we had established. However these parties were not able to hinder the course of the relationship. The obstacle which had impeded the course of this relationship was the attempt of Eritrea to conquest Ethiopia. And if we resolve this attempt including the roots of the difference in coincidence with the implementation of the resolution of the Commission to demarcate the border and the steps of normalization, then we will return to the distinguished relationship.

At the time you are talking about normalization of relations with Eritrea, there are those who regard that the alliance, which has been established among Yemen, Ethiopia and Sudan, targets primarily the state of Eritrea. How would you reply to this claim?

Well, let’s look at the facts. Eritrea has attacked Yemen, then Sudan and then Ethiopia; and it threatened to attack Djibouti. But fortunately that didn’t happen since Djibouti had strong defender which was France. And it was clear that France would not allow some thing like this to take place. As a result Eritrea didn’t find a way to coexist peacefully with a free state. The Eritrean leadership, until now, seems resolved to solve its internal problems and differences with its neighbors by resorting to hostility and the use of force. This is the first fact; and the second fact is that we all the members of the alliance want to have good relations in the political, social and economic areas. We have distinguished relations with Yemen which we maintained for more than a thousand years and also we with the Sudan and we want to have good relation with Eritrea but Eritrea, until now, doesn’t want such relations with Ethiopia.

But there was a Yemeni invitation in order to include the state of Eritrea into this alliance. What hinders the inclusion of the state of Eritrea into this alliance?

Nothing stands against the inclusion of Eritrea into us if it settles all its problems with its neighbors. But if Eritrea fights Ethiopia and the Sudan and if what it is doing now is to shake the stability of the Sudan and Ethiopia; it will be very difficult to discuss political and economic relations although Eritrea is part of the family. We want to include it to us if it works to resolve its problems with its neighbors and after it gives up the approach of resolving differences through force.

 Mr. Zenawee, how do you see to the American call to what it says reformation and spread of democracy in the third world especially in light of the disparity in the reactions of the third world? Some view the American call with doubts while others have reservations about it. How do you see this stance of the United States of America?

We, in Ethiopia, are engaged to engender democratic transformation because our people demand this transformation and not because the USA is the one that demands it. Every country will, in my opinion, find its way to reformation, but reformation has to come out from within a country. Good wills may support the efforts of reformation but reformation can not be imposed from out side; and my belief is that reformation is coming and people deserve to enjoy democracy and freedom.


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