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Ethiopia to cede land at heart of bloody conflict with Eritrea

Badme village

Ethiopia to cede land at heart of bloody conflict with Eritrea

By John Aglionby | FT

Ethiopia announced on Tuesday it would implement a peace agreement ending a 1998-2000 war with Eritrea that requires it to cede disputed land it has occupied for almost two decades.

The executive committee of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front also said after a day-long meeting that the government would sell off minority stakes in state-owned enterprises, including Ethio Telecom and Ethiopian Airlines, and that foreigners would be allowed to invest in the lucrative businesses.

The moves are part of a radical reform agenda initiated by Abiy Ahmed, who became Ethiopian prime minister in April, to open up the country after 26 years of authoritarian rule by a minority elite. He has also promised greater democracy in a nation where the EPRDF controls every seat in parliament.

In December 2000 Ethiopia and Eritrea signed an agreement in Algiers to end the two-year conflict triggered by competing claims for territory along the border. The fighting cost tens of thousands of lives.

But Addis Ababa refused to recognise the 2002 decision of a boundary commission established under the agreement that gave the town of Badme, which was the flashpoint of the war, and surrounding territory to Eritrea. Ethiopia has occupied the area ever since, insisting relations should be normalised before any resolution of the boundary, and the countries have remained in a state of “no peace no war” ever since.

But on Tuesday Ethiopia said it would “fully implement” the Algiers accord and the decision of the boundary commission.

Ahmed Soliman, an Ethiopia analyst at Chatham House in London, described Ethiopia’s decision as “really significant”.

“Ethiopia has flouted an international peace agreement for 16 years and used its larger size and more sophisticated diplomatic clout to isolate Eritrea regionally and internationally,” he said. “But since Abiy Ahmed has come in he’s talked about wanting to mend ties and reach out to Eritrea.

“This is the first step. We now need to see them actually give up Badme.”

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