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By Yoel Alem
The Horn of Africa has become the source of much disturbing news. Mogadishu has become Africa's Baghdad. There is genocide in Darfur, there are bombings in Ethiopia, and there is unremitting repression in Eritrea.
Many independent observers trace the cause of these interlocking crises-or at least the intensity with which each now rages--to the Eritrea-Ethiopia border conflict. Yet the international community does little more to solve this festering problem than to give lip service to the need for a negotiated solution before saying no such solution is in sight.
"The Emergency situation is evidently so vast that we cannot waste time assessing the accuracy of figures. We must start by responding to the crisis immediately. There is no time to waste." - Head ofUN Agencies in Eritrea, June 10
The rains are falling steadily in Eritrea. The ceasefire is holding, yet much of the fertile agricultural land remains out of bounds due to security concerns. Farmers were unable to go back to plant their fields in time, and now famine looms for a population still reeling from the effects of war.
"The Emergency situation is evidently so vast that we cannot waste time assessing the accuracy of figures. We must start by responding to the crisis immediately. There is no time to waste." - Head of UN Agencies in Eritrea, June 10
What are the roots of the war?
Former allies and friends, the Eritrean and Ethiopian governments confounded the international community when they took up arms against each other in May, 1998. Their border dispute is only one aspect of a broader discord:
* Eritrea has adopted a centralized and multi-ethnic government and emphasizes self-sufficiency, while Ethiopia is a federal state, with a central government dominated by the Tigray ethnic group.
A staggering 1.5 million Eritreans - almost
half of the total population of the country - have been displaced from
their homes by Ethiopia's invasion. Relief workers in Eritrea have estimated
that about 25 percent of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) are
women, and 65-70 percent children. Figures of those displaced and
fleeing their homes are changing daily as more refugees are being found
in their hide-outs in nearby hills and valleys.
It is important to point out that while Grassroots International has received detailed reports from Eritrea, assessments are not complete. Figures of those displaced and fleeing their homes are changing daily, as more refugees are being found in their hide-outs in nearby hills and valleys.
Boston, June 1 - Freweini Woldai, 30, fled her home on the southern border of Eritrea last week when it came under heavy Ethiopian bombardment. She walked for a week with her four young children, carrying an eighteen month child on her back and a three week old baby in her arms. She could not carry possessions, but received some food on the way from soldiers and villagers. When she finally reached a UN relief agency, she was weak from the recent birth and travel.
Boston, 25 May - A Boston-based humanitarian agency urged the U.S. to consider economic sanctions on Ethiopia unless it agrees to a ceasefire and withdraws from occupied Eritrean territory. Eritrea has agreed to withdraw from disputed border areas.
Boston, 23 May - As up to a million Eritreans are uprooted in the invasion of their country by Ethiopia, a Boston aid agency with historical links to the region has issued a call for the US government to take stronger action. The agency's Executive Director Kevin Murray wrote to the State Department, "We urge you to issue an immediate public condemnation of the Ethiopian invasion."
Boston, 18 May - Yesterday, the UN Security Council imposed an arms embargo on Eritrea and Ethiopia in hopes of dampening their border conflict. Unfortunately, this embargo will not stop the Ethiopian invasion and will have little immediate effect on the hundreds of thousands in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. Grassroots International calls for economic sanctions on Ethiopia and immediate international mobilization of humanitarian aid to areas directly affected by the conflict.
On May 12, Ethiopia launched its long-predicted
offensive against Eritrea. Grassroots International calls for the UN Security
Council to sanction arms sales and suspend development assistance to Ethiopia
pending an end to the current aggression. Humanitarian assistance
must be exempt from these provisions, given the serious conditions in the
More than half a million Eritreans are fleeing their homes, as the Ethiopian army advances into their country. The sudden surge of people is overwhelming the capacities of Eritrean relief organizations. To support them, Grassroots International is launching an appeal for emergency aid for the affected areas.