The Eritrean-Ethiopian War was a border conflict that took place from May 1998 to June 2000. On May 8, a platoon of Eritreans soldier deployed into Badme region.
Fighting escalated to artillery and tank fire leading to four weeks of intense fighting. Ground troops fought on three fronts.
Eritrea claims Ethiopia launched air strikes against Eritrea’s capital Asmara while Ethiopia accused Eritrea of striking first.
The fighting led to huge internal displacement in both countries as civilians fled the war zone. The conflict ended in stalemate and deployment of UNMEE
Following independence, the two neighbours disagreed over currency and trade issues, and both laid claim to several border regions including Badme, Tsorona-Zalambessa, and Bure.
Nevertheless, since the two governments were close allies they agreed to set up a commission to look into their common border and disputed places. Since early 1991 they had agreed to set up a commission to look into each others’ claims.
Of particular issue was the border through the Badme Plain. As a result of the Treaty of 1902 the Badme Plain is bisected by the border which runs in a straight line between the Gash and Setit (Tekezé) Rivers.
The development of the war: On 6 May 1998, a few Eritrean soldiers entered the Badme region, a borderline zone, along the border of Eritrea and Ethiopia’s northern Tigray Region, resulting in a fire fight between the Eritrean soldiers and the Tigrayan militia and security police they encountered.
The evidence illustrated that, at about 5:30 a.m. on May 12, 1998, Eritrean armed forces, consisted of at least two brigades of regular soldiers, supported by tanks and artillery, attacked the town of Badme and other border areas in Ethiopia’s Tahtay Adiabo Wereda, as well as at least two places in its neighboring Laelay Adiabo Wereda.
On that day and in the days instantly following, Eritrean armed forces then pushed across the flat Badme plain to higher ground in the east.
Although the evidence regarding the nature of Ethiopian armed forces in the area conflicted, the weight of the evidence indicated that the Ethiopian defenders were composed merely of militia and some police, who were swiftly forced to move back by the invading Eritrean forces.
Given the absence of an armed attack against Eritrea, the attack that began on May 12 cannot be justified as lawful self-defense under the UN Charter.
The areas initially invaded by Eritrean forces on that day were all either within undisputed Ethiopian territory or within territory that was quietly administered by Ethiopia and that later would be on the Ethiopian side of the line to which Ethiopian armed forces were compelled to withdraw in 2000 under the Cease-Fire Agreement of June 18, 2000.
On May 13, 1998 Ethiopia, in what Eritrean radio described as a “total war” policy, mobilized its forces for a full assault against Eritrea.
The Claims Commission established that this was in essence an pronouncement of the existence of a state of war between belligerents not a declaration of war and that Ethiopia also notified the United Nations Security Council, as required under Article 51 of the UN Charter.
The fighting rapidly escalated to exchanges of artillery and tank fire leading to four weeks of intense fighting.
Ground troops fought on three fronts. On 5 June 1998, the Ethiopians launched air attacks on the airport in Asmara and the Eritreans retaliate by attacking the Ethiopian town of Mekele. These raids caused civilian casualties and deaths on both sides of the border.
There was then a quiet period as both sides mobilized huge forces along their common border and dug extensive trenches.
Both countries used up several hundred million dollars on new military equipment. This was despite the peace mediation efforts by the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and the US/Rwanda peace plan that was in the works.
The US/Rwanda was a four point peace plan that called for withdrawal of both forces to pre-June 1998 positions.
Eritrea rejected and instead demanded for demilitarization of all disputed areas along the common border overseen by a neutral monitoring force and direct talks.
With Eritrea’s refusal to accept the US/Rwanda peace plan, on 22 February 1999, Ethiopia launched a huge military offensive to bring back Badme.
Tension had been elevated since February 6, 1999, When Ethiopia claimed that Eritrea had violated the moratorium on air raids by bombing Adigrat, a claim it later withdrew.
Following the first five days of military set back at Badme, by which time Ethiopia broken through Eritrea’s fortified front and was 10 kilometers (six miles) deep into Eritrean territory, Eritrea accepted the OAU peace plan on 27 February 1999.
Ethiopia did not at once stop its advance because it demanded that peace talks be contingent on an Eritrean withdrawal from territory occupied since the first outbreak of fighting.
Ethiopia commenced an offensive that broke through the Eritrean lines between Shambuko and Mendefera, crossed the Mareb River, and cut the road between Barentu and Mendefera, the main supply line for Eritrean troops on the western front of the fighting.
By May 2000, Ethiopia occupied about a quarter of Eritrea’s territory, displacing 650,000 people and wiping out key components of Eritrea’s infrastructure.
The Eritreans withdrawn from the disputed border town of Zalambessa and other disputed areas on the central front saying it was a ‘tactical retreat’ to take away one of Ethiopia’s last remaining excuses for continuing the war.
Having recaptured the most of the contested territories — and heard that Eritrean government in accordance with a request from the Organisation of African Unity would withdraw from any other territories it occupied at the start of fighting — on 25 May 2000, Ethiopia affirmed the war was over.
Results of the war: Eritrea claimed that 19,000 Eritrean soldiers were killed during the clash, while the number of Ethiopian soldiers dead is most likely around 50,000 as the total war casualties from both countries is reported worldwide as being around 70,000.
All these figures have been contested and other news reports simply state that “tens of thousands” or “as many as 100,000″ were killed in the war.
The fighting led to massive internal displacement in both countries as civilians fled the war zone.
Ethiopia expelled 77,000 Eritreans and Ethiopians of Eritrean origin it believed to be security risk, hence compounding Eritrea’s refugee problem.
Many of the 77,000 Eritrean and Ethiopians of Eritrean origins were considered well off by the standard of Ethiopian standard living and deporteeing them all after confiscating their belonging was a cruel act of human rights violations.
The economies of these countries were already weak as a result of decades of cold war politics, civil war and drought.
The war intensified these problems, resulting in food shortages. Before the war, much of Eritrea’s trade was with Ethiopia, and much of Ethiopia’s foreign trade relied on Eritrean roads and ports.
Keywords: Eritrea, Ethiopia, UNMEE, Badme region, Tsorona, Zalambessa, Bure, Gash, Setit, Tigrayan militia, Tahtay Adiabo Wereda, Laelay Adiabo Wereda, Mekele, OAU, Adigrat, Shambuko, Mendefera, Mareb River, Barentu,