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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Grim Wars Grind On




It has now been almost two years since Ethiopia's declaration of all-out war on Eritrea. Since then, Ethiopia has repeatedly attacked Eritrea all along their common border, sending massive human waves of young Ethiopians to certain death.


Now Ethiopia is faced with famine. For the last few years, the Ethiopian government bragged about "record harvests" to cover up the fact that rains and crops had failed over large areas. Ethiopia admitted this month that close to 10 million of its people are facing starvation. But it refuses to stop its war and end military spending of $1 million a day.


The United States needs to tell Ethiopia to stop its war on Eritrea. Eritrea has offered to help send shipments of grain to drought-affected areas of Ethiopia through Eritrea's ports, in cooperation with the U.S. Agency for International Development. Ethiopia, astonishingly, refuses this offer. It prefers to watch 10 million of its own people starve rather than take food aid delivered through the ports of the country that it is attacking.


The war started one year before Ethiopia's official declaration, when, in July 1997, Ethiopian troops occupied an area in eastern Eritrea. Ethiopia failed to remove its military despite the Eritrean president's diplomatic protests. When Ethiopia attacked again in May 1998, Eritrea resisted. Ethiopia took this as a pretext for declaration of all-out war, and for immediate attacks on other border areas.


Ethiopia has targeted civilian areas deep inside Eritrea in air attacks, using cluster bombs and napalm. It has bombed or blockaded every major port and airport in the country. It ransacked and still occupies Eritrean embassy premises in Addis Ababa - ignoring Eritrea's petitions to the International Court of Justice about this violation of international diplomatic law. It threw Eritrea's ambassador to the Organization of African Unity out of Addis Ababa in violation of the OAU headquarters agreement.


For the last few months, Ethiopia has not mounted any major new attacks. But it is now threatening to resume the insanity, which has cost the two nations more than 70,000 lives, by some estimates. Ethiopia claims it accepts two OAU-/U.S.-negotiated proposals to end the war, but it refuses to sign them. It has now rejected a third OAU/U.S. proposal after seven months of stalling.


Ethiopia claims that its war is justified by a need to recover territory that it says Eritrea is occupying. But it refuses to answer when asked what territory that might be. Eritrea occupies - and claims - only land to the north of the colonial treaty boundary negotiated by Italy and Ethiopia a century ago. These boundaries are universally recognized on U.S., UN and other maps, and on Ethiopia's own official maps until the year of Ethiopia's first attack.


Ethiopia refuses to state its territorial claims publicly. If Ethiopia makes clear that its territorial ambitions extend to areas north of the colonial treaty border, the Ethiopian public will know that its young are dying in an attempt to conquer lands that Ethiopia knows to be Eritrean. But once it recognizes the colonial treaty border, its rationale for continuing the war evaporates. Ethiopia refuses to sign the peace plan because it knows that a neutral demarcation will debunk its expansionist claims.


This senseless war has imposed enormous hardship on civilians. In the last two years, Ethiopia has expelled almost 70,000 people of Eritrean national origin, confiscating homes and farms and tearing families apart. Ethiopia's prime minister says it has the right to expel ethnic Eritreans whenever it wants to, "if only because we do not like the color of their eyes." Western human rights groups all condemn Ethiopia's ethnic cleansing. Ethiopia criticizes the West for not doing enough to stop its famine. Ethiopia does this despite the fact that the response from Western countries is already clogging the few ports and roads that remain open through the war.


There is only one more thing that the West can do to stop the growing famine in Ethiopia. Western countries, especially the United States, have to tell Ethiopia to agree to an immediate cease-fire and stop the war.


Semere Russom is the Eritrean ambassador to the United States. He contributed this comment to The Hartford Courant.