Reports of violence between Eritrean and Ethiopian military forces along their shared border surfaced on the morning of Monday June 13th. The fighting, which included artillery strikes is said to have begun on Sunday in the highly contested Tsorona area. Both sides claim to have inflicted casualties upon the other, however, neither Eritrean nor Ethiopian authorities have divulged any further information pertaining to such. Neither country has admitted to initiating the conflict.
A statement issued by Eritrean officials to the AFP news agency cited “[m]ounting opposition from popular movements of the Ethiopian people, endemic corruption and associated economic crisis, as well as the desire to stem promising progress in Eritrea are indeed some of the factors prompting the TPLF [(Ethiopian)] regime to indulge in reckless military adventures”. On the other hand, the Ethiopian Information Minister Getachew Reda describes the skirmish as “an Eritrean initiative”, which he believes was performed to divert both domestic and international attention from a recent report issued by the United Nations.
Last week the U.N. Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Human Rights released a report condemning Eritrea for committing crimes against humanity. In addition to a plethora of crimes perpetrated by the state including enforced disappearance, extrajudicial killings, rape, murder and imprisonment, the COI stated that up to 400,000 people are “enslaved” by the regimes compulsory military and national service program. The forced labour of these conscripts has been identified as a significant breach of human rights, especially considering that, as Mike Smith Chief U.N. Investigator alleged, “very few Eritreans are ever released from their military service obligations”.
The COI suggests that these crimes against humanity were, and continue to be enacted in order to control the civilian population and crush opposition to the State. The report also found that around 5000 Eritreans attempt to flee the country every month. Last year, 47,025 Eritreans applied for asylum in Europe making them the largest group to do so after Syrians, Afghanis and Iraqis. The government operates a shoot to kill policy in order to stop citizens fleeing, writes Al Jazeera.
“The armed attack two days ago is timed with the release of the report, supposedly for maximum impact on the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Eritrea” foreign minister for Eritrea Osman Saleh told the U.N. Human Rights Council. He blamed Ethiopia of “orchestrating evidence” for the U.N. report, in order to “advance its propaganda against a country that it aims to destabilize.”
The two nations have a long history of conflict. Eritrea gained its independence from Ethiopia in 1991 after the three-decade long Eritrean War of Independence. Between 1998-2000 an estimated 80,000 people were killed in the Eritrean-Ethiopian War, which was waged over a border dispute similar to that of this week. The international community is concerned that the recent clash may once again escalate into a full-fledged war. In 2008 a U.N. peacekeeping mission withdrew from the border after being driven away by Eritrean forces.
A three-week long session is currently being held by the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva in order to consider a resolution for the widespread human rights violations. Mike Smith and the COI recommend that the international community and the International Criminal Court get involved.
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