The Eritrean-Ethiopian War took place from May 1998 to June 2000 between Ethiopia and Eritrea, forming one of the conflicts in the Horn of Africa. Eritrea and Ethiopia — two of the world's poorest countries — spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the war and suffered the loss of tens of thousands of their citizens killed or wounded as a direct consequence of the conflict, which resulted in minor border changes.
According to a ruling by an international commission in the Hague, Eritrea broke international law and triggered the war by invading Ethiopia.
One 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.
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 found that this was in essence an affirmation 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 quickly 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 retaliated by attacking the Ethiopian town of Mekele. These raids caused civilian casualties and deaths on both sides of the border.
There was then a lull as both sides mobilized huge forces along their common border and dug extensive trenches. Both countries spent 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 refused 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 massive military offensive to recapture Badme. Tension had been high 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. While both states said that they accepted the OAU peace plan, Ethopia did not immediately stop its advance because it demanded that peace talks be contingent on an Eritrean withdrawal from territory occupied since the first outbreak of fighting.
On 16 May the BBC reported that after a lull of two weeks the Ethiopians had attacked at Velessa on the Tsorona front-line, south of Eritrea's capital Asmara and that after two day of heavy fighting the Eritreans had beaten off the attack claiming to have destroyed more than forty-five Ethiopian tanks, although not able to verify the claim, that the Ethiopian Government dismissed as ridiculous, the BBC reporter did see more than 300 dead Ethopeans and more than 20 destroyed Ethiopian tanks. In June 1999 the fighting continued with both sides in entrenched positions. About a quarter of Eritrean soldiers were women.
"Proximity talks" broke down in early May 2000 "with Ethiopia accusing Eritrea of imposing unacceptable conditions". On the 12 May the Ethiopians launched 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 23 May the BBC was reporting that Ethiopia claimed "its troops had seized vital command posts in the heavily defended Zalambessa area, about 100km (60 miles) south of the Eritrean capital, Asmara". But the Eritreans claimed they withdrew from the disputed border town of Zalambessa and other disputed areas on the central front as a "...'goodwill' gesture to revive peace talks while Ethiopia claimed it was a 'tactical retreat' to take away one of Ethiopia's last remaining excuses for continuing the war, ("The scale of Eritrean defeat was apparent when Eritrea unexpectedly accepted the OAU peace framework.). Having recaptured 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 declared the war was over. By the end of May 2000, Ethiopia occupied about a quarter of Eritrea's territory, displacing 650,000 people and destroying key components of Eritrea's infrastructure.
The widespread use of trenches has resulted in comparisons of the conflict to the trench warfare of World War I. This trench warfare led to the loss of "...thousands of young lives in human-wave assaults on Eritrea's positions... The Eritrean defences were eventually overtaken by a surprise Ethiopian pincer movement on the Western front, attacking a mined, but lightly defended mountain (without trenches), resulting in the capture of Barentu and an Eritrean retreat. The element of surprise in the attack involved the use of donkeys as pack animals as well as being a solely infantry affair, with tanks coming in to secure the area only later.
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 deemed to be security risk, thus compounding Eritrea's refugee problem. The majority of the 77,000 Eritrean and Ethiopians of Eritrean origins were considered well off by the Ethiopian standard of living. They were deported after their belongings had been confiscated. On the Eritrean side, around 7,500 Ethiopians living in Eritrea were interned, and thousands of others were deported. Thousands more remain in Eritrea, many of whom are unable to pay the 1,000 Birr tax on Ethiopians relocating to Ethiopia. According to Human Rights Watch, detainees on both sides were subject in some cases to torture, rape, or other degrading treatment.
The economies of both countries were already weak as a result of decades of cold war politics, civil war and drought. The war exacerbated these problems, resulting in food shortages. Prior to the war, much of Eritrea's trade was with Ethiopia, and much of Ethiopia's foreign trade relied on Eritrean roads and ports.
On 18 June 2000, the parties agreed to a comprehensive peace agreement and binding arbitration of their disputes under the Algiers Agreement. A 25-kilometer-wide Temporary Security Zone (TSZ) was established within Eritrea, patrolled by United Nations peacekeeping forces from over 60 countries (the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE). On 12 December 2000 a peace agreement was signed by the two governments.
On 13 April 2002, the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission established under the Algiers Agreement in collaboration with Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague agreed upon a "final and binding" verdict. The ruling awarded some territory to each side, but Badme (the flash point of the conflict) was awarded to Eritrea. Both countries vowed to accept the decision wholeheartedly the day after the ruling was made official. A few months later Ethiopia requested clarifications, then stated it was deeply dissatisfied with the ruling. In September 2003 Eritrea refused to agree to a new commission, which they would have had to agree to if the old binding agreement was to be set aside, and asked the international community to put pressure on Ethiopia to accept the ruling. In November 2004, Ethiopia accepts the ruling "in principle".
On 10 December 2005, Ethiopia announced it was withdrawing some of its forces from the Eritrean border "in the interests of peace". Then, on 15 December the United Nations began to withdraw peacekeepers from Eritrea in response to a UN resolution passed the previous day.
On 21 December, 2005, a commission at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague ruled that Eritrea broke international law when it attacked Ethiopia in 1998, triggering the broader conflict.
Ethiopia and Eritrea have since remobilized troops along the border, and as of 2006, there is new fear that the two countries could return to war. On 7 December 2005, Eritrea banned UN helicopter flights and ordered Western members (particularly from the United States, Canada, Europe and Russia) of the UN peacekeeping mission on its border with Ethiopia to leave within 10 days, sparking concerns of further conflict with its neighbour. In November 2006 Ethiopia and Eritrea boycotted a Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission meeting at the Hague which would have demarcated their disputed border using UN maps. Ethiopia was not there because it does not accept the decision and as it will not allow physical demarcation it will not accept map demarcation, and Eritrea was not there because although it backs the commission's proposals, it insists that the border should be physically marked out.
Despite the peace treaty, tensions remain between the two countries. Both nations have been accused of supporting the dissents and armed opposition groups against each other. A Canadian analyst & researcher for UN news agency IRIN, John Young, reported that "the military victory of the EPRDF (Ethiopia) that ended the Ethiopia–Eritrea War, and its occupation of a swath of Eritrean territory, brought yet another change to the configuration of armed groups in the borderlands between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Asmara replaced Khartoum as the leading supporter of anti-EPRDF armed groups operating along the frontier." However, Ethiopia is also accused of supporting rebels opposed to the Eritrean government.
At the November 2007 deadline, some analysts feared the restart of the border war but the date passed without any conflict. There were many reasons why war didn't resume. Former U.S. Ambassador David Shinn said both Ethiopia and Eritrea were in a bad position. Many fear the weak Eritrean economy is not improving like other African nations while others say Ethiopia is bogged down in Mogadishu. David Shinn said Ethiopia has "a very powerful and so far disciplined national army that made pretty short work of the Eritreans in 2000 and the Eritreans have not forgotten that." But he stated Ethiopia is not interested in war because America would condemn Ethiopia if it initiated the war saying "I don't think even the US could sit by and condone an Ethiopian initiated attack on Eritrea."
As agreed in the Algiers Agreement, the two parties presented their case at the Permanent Court of Arbitration to two different Commissions:
1. Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission
Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission ruled that Badme lies in Eritrea.
2. Eritrea-Ethiopia Claims Commission
In July 2001 the Commission sat to decide its jurisdiction, procedures and possible remedies. The result of this sitting was issued on August 2001. In October 2001, following consultations with the Parties, the Commission adopted its Rules of Procedure. In December 2001 the Parties filed their claims with the Commission. The claims filed by the Parties relate to such matters as the conduct of military operations in the front zones, the treatment of POWs and of civilians and their property, diplomatic immunities and the economic impact of certain government actions during the conflict. At the end of 2005 final awards have been issued on claims on Pensions, and Ports. Partial awards have been issued for claims about: Prisoners of War, the Central Front, Civilians Claims, the Western and Eastern Fronts, Diplomatic, Economic and property losses, and Jus Ad Bellum.
The Ethiopia-Eritrean claim committee ruled that: