The Border Commission had been dissolved as early as November 2007. Prior to that, the Commission presented a new map with detailed aerial photos outlining the proposed locations for border markings. The idea was that the two countries would handle the deployment themselves. But they refused: Eritrea demanded that the outside world take responsibility for the demarcation, as stated, while Ethiopia rejected the demarcation as such.
The other UN commission, tasked with investigating the debt issue and damages, had previously concluded that it was Eritrea that started the war. In August 2009, the Commission decided that Eritrea would pay $ 174 million in damages to Ethiopia, while Ethiopia would pay close to $ 164 million to Eritrea for war damages. Eritrea, which thus owed just over $ 10 million “net”, said it would accept the decision while Ethiopia rejected it.
Both parties then continued to have large troop gatherings along the border. Fire exchange occurred. On several occasions, the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea threatened to flare up again. The regimes also provided support to resistance groups in the other country, thus contributing to general instability in the Horn of Africa.
Ethiopia and Eritrea also practiced war against each other through interference in other conflicts in the region. This was especially true of Somalia, where Ethiopian troops entered in 2006 to support the so-called transitional government in fighting Islamist militias. Eritrea had previously been accused of supporting Islamists in Somalia.
The government in Asmara protested violently when the AU and the regional cooperation organization Igad (Intergovernmental Authority on Development) in 2007 decided to send a force to Somalia to replace the Ethiopian troops. Eritrea’s support for the Islamists seemed ironic – the Eritrean leadership is dominated by Christians and has no tolerance for Islamist groups at home.
Eritrea had now ended up on a collision course with both neighboring countries and the western world. Following pressure from Igad and the AU, the UN Security Council decided in December 2009 to impose sanctions on Eritrea for its support for Islamist rebels in Somalia. The Security Council also referred to the ongoing border conflict with Djibouti. An arms embargo was imposed, Eritrean assets abroad were frozen and leading Eritreans were banned from traveling. Eritrea protested against the allegations, claiming that it was a black painting by the United States and Ethiopia.
For the government in Asmara, the sanctions were just further proof of the Western unconditional support for Ethiopia. It is true that Addis Ababa had chosen to ignore the decision of the UN-appointed border commission, even though it would be binding, without being subjected to more than tame protests from the outside world. Many of Asmara’s rulers still believe that Ethiopia really wants to recapture Eritrea, while some Ethiopians believe that the Red Sea region was too easily allowed to break away.
Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki has used the conflict with Ethiopia to justify a rock-hard regime that does not tolerate any internal opposition. The domestic oppression, as well as various military adventures in the region, contributed to Asmara for a long time being fairly isolated in the world.
Nevertheless, Ethiopia felt that the outside world was not careful enough to ensure that sanctions against Eritrea were complied with. Addis Ababa accused Eritrea of instability in the Horn of Africa and in March 2011 threatened to overthrow the government in Asmara. The Ethiopian government may also have had an interest in keeping external conflicts alive, in order to reduce the focus on internal conflicts.
New peace agreement
Despite the dire situation, the government in Addis Ababa proposed peace talks in early 2013, but without being heard. The United States then tried unsuccessfully to bring the parties to the negotiating table.
Hopes for real peace were only raised in June 2018 when the new Ethiopian Prime Minister Abyi Ahmed Ali announced that Ethiopia was ready to fully comply with the UN Commission’s 2003 decision on the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia. The decision led Eritrea to send a delegation of diplomats to Addis Ababa for further discussions shortly thereafter.
When Abiy then visited President Isaias Afwerki in Asmara on July 9, 2018, the parties were able to sign a “declaration of peace and friendship”, which meant that the state of war was over. In accordance with the agreement, diplomatic relations were re-established between the two countries, while air traffic and other transport were resumed and border crossings and telephone lines were reopened.
Following the conclusion of the peace agreement, several ethnic conflicts and other unrest came to the surface in Ethiopia. The peace process with Eritrea slowed down and some border crossings were closed again. However, the peace with Eritrea is considered sustainable and in the autumn of 2019, Abiy Ahmed Ali was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.