Home | News    Thursday 18 August 2011

South Sudan offers to mediate between Ethiopia and Eritrea over border row

By Tesfa-Alem Tekle

August 17, 2011 (ADDIS ABABA) – The newly independent Republic of South Sudan has called on Ethiopia and Eritrea to resume peace talks to end their long-standing border dispute.

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Refugees from Eritrea waiting to be screened by the Ethiopian authorities in Endabaguna town, Wednesday, July 27, 2011 (AP)

Between 1998 and 2000 Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a bitter war over the disputed border town of Badme, which killed at least 70,000 people. Fighting ended in 2000 when the two sides signed the Algiers peace agreement by which the dispute was referred for international arbitration.

But despite the UN founded Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission finding that Badme belonged to Eritrea, Ethiopia has refused to remove its troops from the area. Ethiopia often accuses Eritrea, which seceded from its larger neighbour in 1993, of attempts to destablise the region. Most recently it alleged that Eritrea intended to attack an African Union summit in Addis Ababa.

The offer of mediation is one of South Sudan’s first articulations of its foreign policy since it separated from Sudan on July 9 as part of a 2005 peace deal.

“I appeal to both leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea to find a peaceful and lasting solution to the existing differences” South Sudan’s president Salva Kiir Mayardit said in a press statement on his two day official visit to neighbouring Ethiopia and the African Union (AU).

The South Sudanese leader whose country has cordial relations with both Ethiopia and Eritrea underscored the need to resume diplomatic efforts to bring both countries to the negotiating table.

Kiir pledged to bring the two sides together for talks to find out a peaceful settlement soon his country has established itself on a firmer footing.

“As soon as we have set our priorities in order and rolling, I will shuttle between Addis Ababa and Asmara until the two sisterly countries are brought back to normal relations”, he said noting the two countries contribution during South Sudan’s struggle for independence.

“I personally take this as a moral duty because it is disturbing to us seeing both countries bleeding again while both of them also paid the ultimate sacrifice in order for the people of South Sudan to be free today” Kiir added.

The Ethiopian government recently threatened that it would attempt to bring about regime change in Eritrea stirring fears of return to full scale war.

Speaking to parliament in April, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said that his government would not be forced to change its policy from “passive defiance” to directly help Eritrean people topple the regime.

Zenawi said Eritrea is sending terrorists and is supporting and training homegrown “destructive forces” in a plot to “turn Addis Ababa into Baghdad”.

Eritrea rejects the allegations. The two neighbours routinely trade tough rhetoric since the border war ended over a decade ago.