Ethiopia and Eritrea signed a peace treaty in Algiers yesterday, ending their two-year border war which has claimed 100,000 lives and displaced more than a million people on the Horn of Africa.The leaders of both countries agreed that the border, a 620-mile line across largely uninhabited semi-desert, is to be demarcated by an independent commission in accordance with colonial maps. Bar the odd minor adjustment in either direction, this means that the border’s location will remain essentially the same as it was before the war.
The Ethiopian prime minister, Meles Zenawi, and the Eritrean president, Isaias Afwerki, former allies against Ethiopia’s long-time strongman Mengistu Haile Mariam, shook hands after the signing ceremony.
Afterwards, Mr Zenawi pledged his country’s commitment “to the full and scrupulous implementation of the agreement”.
“We believe the signing of the peace agreement will lead us to our pre-eminent task which is the struggle against poverty,” he said.
Mr Afwerki followed suit, expressing his country’s “commitment and desire to forget the past and look for a future of peace and mutual respect”.
A star-studded cast of international diplomats, including the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, and the US secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, was on hand to applaud the success of a six-month peace process.
But Mr Annan was quick to play down the formal end to a brutal war which has baffled most analysts.
“It is not enough to silence the guns. As we embrace peace, build trust and work for reconciliation, we must remember that words can inflame or soothe,” he said. “We need the best possible atmosphere for implementation of this agreement.”
The two leaders also agreed to exchange prisoners, return displaced people and hear claims for war damages. Some 4,200 UN peacekeepers will monitor the ceasefire.
No timetable has been set for the peace process and demarcation of the border, but Mr Annan has said he does not expect UN troops to be stationed on the Horn of Africa for more than a year.
Far from yesterday’s applause, however, the atmosphere was less encouraging. In Addis Adaba, the Ethiopian government called for victims of the “Eritrean war of aggression” to come forward to process compensation claims.
While in the Eritrean capital, Asmara, the foreign minister, Ali Sayyid Abdallah, warned that the Ethiopian administration was not trustworthy; it had in the past evaded its commitment to the “agreements it signed before the ink was dry”, he said.
The fighting erupted on May 6 1998, when Eritrea, which won independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after a 30-year guerrilla war, invaded what Ethiopiaconsidered to be its territory. The border between the two nations had never been formally outlined.