UNMEE’s Apology, Hypocrisy or Disingenuous Repentance Regarding the Deliberately Distorted Incidents in the Irob Region’s Disputed Borders?
(Critical Statement and Appeal Directed to the International Community)
By the Reverend Abba Tesfamariam Baraki
An Irob-Ethio-American Citizen
Washington, D.C., USA
“The people who are handling this peace process are human beings … Once in a while, there will be mistakes.”
Ambassador Legwaila Joseph Legwaila, SRGS (UNMEE)
Introduction: Critical Analysis of the Issue and the Irob Response
While the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) and the Ethiopian Government have exchanged accusations, the unfortunate and voiceless Irob people continue to be victimized by all forms of mendacity and dishonesty of political interest groups, including the United Nations, which is operating in the area apparently with some hidden agendas. Hence, the Irob people have totally lost trust in the United Nations peacekeeping role and are very much frustrated with their own government’s double standards regarding this matter. The Irob minority ethnics, who continue adamantly to oppose from being split into two nationalities against their will, feel betrayed by the International Community and misled by their own government, who keeps them in total darkness lacking honesty and transparency. In fact, the EPRDF government is blamed for deluding the Irob people and the entire Ethiopian people about the border real issues in the Irobland as well as in other areas. Even worse, the local Administrative Government is criticized for exercising political intimidation tactics on those Irobs, who raise questions and concerns regarding the fate of parts of their native land. The Irobs are seriously concerned and alarmed about the political destiny of their people in those areas to be affected by the upcoming boundary demarcation to begin in May 2003. The Hague Boundary Commission’s ruling of 13 April 2002, regarding the border delimitation and demarcation between Ethiopia and Eritrea, is not welcomed by the Irob people; it is rather perceived as a detrimental, inhumane, and unjust verdict aimed at causing detrimental deterioration of their minority ethnic society.
The Irobs have pleaded with the International Community and those concerned parties not to disturb the traditionally known administrative borders between the two peoples, which existed unremittingly before and after Eritrea’s independence. They did warn the world community about the possibility of unrealized problems that could develop as a consequence if such politically and socially sensitive matter had to be ignored.
Now, that the UN and its Boundary Commission ignored all those sensitive issues, there is a great fear and uncertainty among the Irob people concerning the demarcation of the border, which is in the process for a hasty implementation by the interest groups and parties. They (Irobs) are very much afraid that this undertaking might very well cause a compulsory division of families, relatives, and friends. As it might be very well imposed upon them by the United Nations and by their own government, the Irobs foresee that this action might cause, otherwise, a forced uprooting and dislocation of people from their fatherland. Such action might easily lead to unnecessary tension and even trigger some confrontation between the United Nations peacekeeping forces and the frustrated local inhabitants. If the Irob people resist or use civil disobedience, there is a great possibility that the Ethiopian Government likely might use force against the innocent rural peasants, in order to fulfill the requirements of the UN Boundary Commission and the mandate of the UN Security Council.
The United Nations and the Ethiopian Government, as well as the International Community, should be aware and understand that the victimized Irob people are very much upset with The Hague’s unjust verdict. They are very much disappointed and angry with the Commission’s unjust and detrimental ruling as well with their own government, who let them down by sacrificing their sacred land as a political compromise, and by accepting and surrendering the sovereign Ethiopian territories as a peace settlement with Eritrea. They feel that their political and civil rights have been violated. After all the unprovoked aggression, oppressive occupation, physical and psychological ordeals they went through for two and a half years, the Irobs feel that their human rights were ignored by the International Community and their government. They resent the fact that their fatherland and people are treated as objects of compromise, just, in the name of political and boundary settlements in accordance with the objectionable Algiers Agreement of 2000 and the defunct Colonial Treaty of 1900 between Emperor Menelik II and Italy.
The Irob community persistently pleaded on various occasions through various media by suggesting and indicating to the world community about the predicament of peace and lasting stability in the border areas. The community pointed out that before demarcation takes place, reconciliation and normalization of relations between the two countries and their respective citizens on both sides of the border would be necessary to pave the way for peace and acceptance of internationally recognized borders. Both peoples of Eritrea and Ethiopia, particularly in the border areas, do accept the fact that they are indeed blood relatives through intermarriages and same-family-ancestry and roots. These realities could have helped them seek a possible common solution to their border related common problems. Without the doubt, if the peoples on the border areas were consulted and given the opportunity, they would have advised that the mutual reconciliation and peaceful coexistence as good neighbors, they used to enjoy, prior to the war of 1998, could have been their option.
The inhabitants of the border areas from both sides of the two countries do indeed know very well where the traditional administrative borders between the two countries existed for decades or even centuries. That was why members of the Irob community believed and on various occasions offered suggestions that it would be of vital importance to involving and consulting those knowledgeable elders of both countries in those disputed areas in the consultation processes of border delimitation as well as demarcation. This could certainly have helped bring about and guarantee the stability and peace direly needed between the two countries.
To the Irobs’ dismay, however, the very knowledgeable and resourceful peoples were considered by the UNMEE peacekeepers and their officials as ignorant about their own native lands borders. During the UNMEE media briefing of 11 October 2002, the Director in the Office of the SRSG made the following comment about the allegations of abducted people in those disputed areas, saying: “ … these things are happening at the Border and as you know it’s not easy for the ordinary person to know when they are on the other side, which is not their country, so if somebody crosses to the other side without a visa they can be apprehended. …And a number of times our people have found out that indeed these people crossed over to the other side because they don’t know exactly where the line is at the Border.” Ironically, the UNMEE personnel themselves may have very little or no clue at all, where the administrative traditional borderlines exactly are. If the local ordinary inhabitants do not know “exactly where the line is at the Border”, who does then exactly know where the dividing-line at the border is? Can the Court in The Hague, or the United Nations in New York City, or those people in Asmara and Addis Ababa, or even better the UNMEE assume to know better those disputed borders more than those inhabitants who dwell in those immediate areas? But, the UNMEE seems to claim to know exactly where the line is at the border, as one of their officials confidently stated: “… a number of times our people have found out that indeed these people crossed over the other side because they don’t know exactly where the line is at the Border.” In my opinion, this is very naive and arrogant statement which insults the local villagers, who know very well from years their traditional border in their immediate areas. No one better can know exactly where the dividing-lines at the border are found except for those villagers inhabiting those particular areas. And for sure, the UNMEE is the least one to know those lines.
Why Was Secrecy Needed between UNMEE and the Ethiopian Government on the Border Issues?
The row, which has been flared up between UNMEE and the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry in early October of 2002, was apparently for breaking some secrecy and “leaking” what was considered “confidential” dealings to the news media. As the IRIN News reported from Addis Ababa on 16 October 2002, “The Ethiopian government has accused the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) of ‘leaking stories’ to the media, saying this could undermine confidence in the peacekeeping mission.” Similarly, the Press Statement issued from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia said: “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia regrets having to discuss in public what should be discussed in private between the authorities of the Ethiopian Government and UNMEE officials. … No doubt, a mission like UNMEE which has such a heavy responsibility is not supposed to be so preoccupied with public relations that it would even be prepared to leak self-serving distorted stories to the media thus risking undermining confidence between the parties and UNMEE.” But why keep secrets and from whom? Probably, the answer might be from those affected border area peoples, like the ones in the Irobland, who have been always kept in darkness from all the border delimitation and demarcation issues and process, and most likely until The Hague’s ruling is fully and smoothly implemented without objection or opposition from any group. Hence, if this assumption is true, these behaviors are serious indication that the United Nations and their partners are neither concerned nor interested in the political feelings and the civil rights of those peoples to be adversely affected on both sides of the two countries. They rather seem preoccupied with their own political agendas of achieving hastily the demarcation objectives as scheduled. The Irobs, however, are seriously concerned that these kinds of hasty and secretive plans of demarcation may not warrantee the desperately needed stability and peace in their region.
UNMEE’s Behaviors and Lack of Neutrality Is Very Disturbing
Supposedly, the role of the UN Mission in Eritrea and Ethiopia was peacekeeping and absolute neutrality and impartiality from a direct or indirect involvement in the two countries’ politics and conflicts. Unfortunately, however, UNMEE has been repeatedly blamed especially by Ethiopia for violating its mission and role of peacekeeping and for not being neutral in favor of one side party’s political interests. As we all have been following very closely and keenly all the developments about the UN’s involvement and role in the Ethio-Eritrean conflict resolution, it is very shocking and disturbing about the revelations and accusations of UNMEE’s misbehaviors and lack of neutrality in the matters of politically sensitive border issues. Hence, the Irob people both at home and Diaspora feel betrayed by the most powerful and respected organization of the world community, which should be guaranteeing and promoting security and protection for both sides of the border peoples with equanimity.
Lately, the UN peacekeeping body has been accusing a tiny voiceless ethnic minority that had been already victimized for two and a half years by the unprovoked invasion, heinous aggression, and forceful occupation by Eritrea. The Irob people, therefore, have a good reason to feel betrayed and unprotected by the UN peacekeeping forces. They rather feel threatened by potential conflicts or shootings that might break out between the villagers/militia and the UN forces, which might very well lead again to another serious confrontation and bloodshed by other foreign forces: this time by the so-called the UN peacekeepers. And they do have legitimate reasons to fear from what we have been hearing and reading about the ways the UNMEE peacekeeping forces and their leaders have been behaving in the past in those disputed border areas.
UNMEE’s Yellow Card of Threat for Possible Retaliatory/Defensive Measures against the Irobs Is Very Frightening and Alarming
As Nita Bhalla, BBC Reporter from Addis Ababa, reported on Friday, 11 October 2002 in her editorial title “UN protests about Ethiopian threats”, there is a clear indication that the UN peacekeeping forces are running out of patience against the Irob villagers, who have been allegedly crossing into the Temporary Security Zones to reclaim back their rustled cattle and abducted people. Her report says, “According to sources, there have been numerous incidents in Aromo where Ethiopians have been crossing into the buffer zone, known as the Temporary Security Zone. Sources add that the situation remains tense in Aromo, as villagers and militia continue to disobey the UN peacekeepers by crossing into the TSZ.” Her report also indicates the UN forces build-up in the Aromo area, as it states: “Although the UN denies that there has been a reinforcement of troops in the area, sources admit that some ‘local adjustment’ of UN forces have been made in the Aromo area.” As we can easily understand from the report, if the UN forces are threatened, there is no hesitation from their part that they will retaliate with a military strike against any group, using the rationale of self-defense. Therefore, their threat seems very serious and imminent against the poor and unarmed Irob villagers who are being used as a scapegoat by the UNMEE’s leadership and troops. Their warning can be seen as a preparatory signal in order to launch possible attacks against the villagers and militia. According to the Chief of Staff’s (Colonel Rajesh Arya) statement, the report says, “This is the first serious security threat that UNMEE has faced since it was deployed in the region two years ago.” The BBC Reporter continues to unfold the dangerously possible military engagement that might happen if such incidents continue to occur: “Although some of our forces were armed, we did not fire. However, according to our rules of engagement, we are permitted to retaliate in self-defense, warned one Unmee source.”
UNMEE’s Peacekeeping Role in the Area Appears Very Questionable and Unreliable to the Concerned and Alarmed Irobs
We, the natives of the Irobland at home and abroad, hold the right to question and doubt the tantrum temperament of the United Nations’ forces that is being exhibited against a tiny voiceless and overly frustrated minority ethnic group. The UNMME media briefing, which was held on 11 October 2002 through a satellite teleconference between Addis Ababa and Asmara, indicated that the highest officials of UNMEE had to protest officially about the occurrence as a serious warning. According to the media briefing, the high ranking UNMEE officials met in Addis Ababa with the Ethiopian Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr. Tekada Alemu, and presented their letter of protest and accusation against the Irob villagers on October 8th. “The DSRSG informed the State Minister of the situation in the Aromo area and the threat posed to the peace process by the violation of the Temporary Security Zone by militia and villagers. He delivered a letter of protest concerning the recent incidents in Aromo in which UNMEEE peacekeepers were threatened by Ethiopian militia and villagers,” the media briefing said.
Did UNMEE Distort the Truth about the Incidences Encountered with the Irob Villagers and Militiamen?
The Irobs, as well as other Ethiopians, would like to know why those incidents which occurred, 3-5 October 2002 in the Irobland, between the UNMEE troops and the Irob villagers and militiamen were so magnified in a distorted manner. Was it such a serious matter that the highest ranks of UNMEE went to Addis to protest and give a warning for the threat posed on the UN peacekeeping forces? Was it a reliable story that 8 militiamen and a pocket of villagers with sticks and axes threatened the troops of UN armed with such highly sophisticated weapons? Why was the story about the exact location, where the incidents happened, distorted? The highly and internationally publicized incidents did not even take place, as reported by the UNMEE, in the Aromo area. As we were able to find out, they occurred rather in the western part of Irob in the vicinity of Magabi’daga village, inside the Ethiopian sovereign territory, many kilometers away from the Aromo village, which borders northern Irob. Through various inquiry, we were able to ascertain the fact that some members of UN peacekeeping forces did cross accompanied by some Eritrean militia and villagers into the Ethiopian territory and instigated the problem themselves by trying to apprehend a man looking after his cattle, and who later managed to escape from their hands and screamed for help.
(Magabi’daga is found close to Point 22. N.B.: Aromo & Magabi’daga are not found on the EEBC Map just added for our need)
Probably, the UNMEE troops do not know the border as they claimed to. If they don’t, the question is: who does tell about and/or show them the exact line of the border between the two sides? And who does interpret the language for them? Apparently, those Eritreans who escort them do since the TSZ is inside Eritrea. Can those escorts and interpreters be reliable and objective in relating the truth of the matters to the UNMEE without any political bias or prejudice against their bitter enemies, the Ethiopians, and their country?
Here are some highlights of how the Chief of Staff, Colonel Rajesh Arya, explained to the audience the occurrences of the incidents at the UNMEE media briefing of October 11th:
“The incidents in the Aromo area, which were of concern to the Force and UNMEE as such started on 3rd and 4th of October. The major incident that occurred on the 4th was that some 50-60 villagers and few militiamen entered the TSZ and they were carrying some sticks, axes and some daggers and they tried to get into the area where the Eritrean villagers were also. …With the intervention of the Force, the clash was halted. Of course…the Force was able to bring the situation under control and in the bargain, it was reported to Headquarters that a few people using threatening gestures as the language could not be understood by the Force Troops, apparently abused the peacekeepers. Apparently, this incident continued for 3-4 hours, but at the end of it no one was hurt. The People went back to their respective areas. As mentioned by the Chief of Public Information Office, the incident was reported and protested to the right authorities. A minor incident happened on the 5th also where 50-60 villagers coupled with the militiamen entered the area of the TSZ from the Ethiopian side and when they were requested to return back to their area they tried to prevent the Force Personnel from intervening by standing around them. Lots of discussions continued for a couple for a couple hours and ultimately they went back. These 2 incidents were reported to the right authorities and since then nothing of this sort has happened.”
The Chief of Staff’s explanations and comments appear quite conflicting that can raise questions about the reliability and validity of his report. For instance, to one question the Chief of Staff answers that “…in the altercation which happened with peacekeepers in the region and 8 militiamen they (the militia) did fire 2 bursts of rounds in the air also, threatening the peacekeepers.” And to another question, he answers: “As I said the language understanding was a problem. It is the interpretation of the peacekeepers there that the argument was going on at that particular point and they tried to convey to the peacekeepers not to intervene and tried to stop them from moving forward to separate the 2 groups. That was the time when one of the militiamen drew his weapon towards the peacekeepers and fired in the air. It was taken as a showing a weapon to the peacekeepers.”
The Alleged UNMEE’s Favoritism, If True, Is Scandalous
The fact that the so-called Temporary Security Zone is situated inside the Eritrean territory does not grant or condone UNMEE a moral justification to show favoritism toward Eritrea and its people over Ethiopia and her people. Both countries and their respective peoples entrusted to them deserve equal attention, equitable treatment, and ethically and legally responsible security protection. The Irob people, however, after had been mistreated and abused for more than two years by the Eritrean invasion and occupation of 1998, they now feel being accused by the UN peacekeeping forces and their officials for causing troubles in the region and posing threat to their mission of peacekeeping. They feel that they are seen with suspicion and considered as trouble makers and dangerous people.
The UNMEE ought to realize that the Irob people sense very much the obvious favoritism displayed toward the other side. As a matter of fact, the Irob people in the border region equate the UN peacekeepers as another “Division of Eritrean Forces” placed there for the security and protection of Eritrea and Eritreans. And this is a very serious allegation against UN peacekeeping forces, who were supposed to be neutral, fair, and impartial in their mission of peace and reconciliation process of the two hostile countries.
UNMEE’s Alleged Moral Misconduct and Racial Bigotry toward
Ethiopians, As Reported by One Writer, Are Puzzling and Disturbing
One of the most disturbing allegations about the UNMEE officials’ misconduct has been published in the Internet by Alem Gebru from Adigrat, Ethiopia, on October 24, 2002, under the title of “The People of Tigrai Resist Shaebian Aggression”. The writer reports:
“Words are coming from Asmara that the Eritrean government is deliberately infecting UNMEE officials with anti-Ethiopia propaganda. As the UNMEE Headquarter is located in Asmara, many of its high-ranking officials reside in the city. Many UNMEE officials are seen entertaining with Eritrean generals and officials in hotels, restaurants, and nightclubs. As a matter of fact, Eritrean secret agents frequently present young Eritrean girls, some of them Shaebia cadres, to UNMEE officials.
Furthermore, over 30 percent of the UNMEE personnel are Eritreans who work as local/national staff. Most of the jokes in various UNMEE offices are about Ethiopians mainly about Agames (Tigreans). This anti-Ethiopian propaganda is not limited to higher officials but it goes down to military observers, otherwise known as MILOBS, including contingency officers.”
If the above allegations are proven to be true, this is a clear indication that the UNMEE has totally failed in its mission of neutrality, peacekeeping role, and in its moral and ethical conduct as a respected body of the United Nations. Hence, the United Nations has moral obligations to investigate these allegations of its peacekeeping forces moral/ethical and behavioral misconducts which might be directly or indirectly affecting their mission and role as a neutral peacekeeping force for the two hostile countries. Such alleged moral misconduct and ant-Ethiopian racial bigotry are obscene and scandalous for the so-called UN peacekeeping body.
Please excuse my language but there is an adage in Tigrigna language: “Deddhri adggi zikede, tiratt adggi lemede” which is like saying, “He who goes behind or follows the donkey, learns to fart like a donkey.” It is a shocking and embarrassing story to hear that the Eritreans are contaminating the UNMEE officials and personnel with their hateful racial bigotry against Ethiopians by influencing them to become racist like themselves. It is most embarrassing for the UN peacekeepers and their personnel to get involved and use an anti-Ethiopian racial slur, as it is alleged by the reporter, which is quite credible. And this behavior shows clearly the UNMEE officials and their personnel’s stand-in matters of ethnic favoritism and their lack of impartiality in such a delicate political matter between Ethiopia and Eritrea.
The UNMEE should better know the term “Agame” does not describe an ethnic or tribal group. It is just a name of a region inhabited by Tigrigna and Saho speakers, including the Irobs. It is found in the northeast Tigray, and its Administrative City is Adigrat. The so-called Agames, if anyone wishes to call them like that, are most proud people because of their great history and nobility in the history of Tigray as well as of Ethiopia. In contrary to some ignorant and bigot people may think of them, the people of Agame are known to be descendants of aristocratic and noble dynasties in Tigray as well as in the whole of Ethiopia. This truth is even well known by those knowledgeable and respected Eritreans as well. Even though the truth totally might be denied, many Eritreans are descendants of people from Agame, including some of their political leaders.
Out of ignorance and racial prejudice, many Eritreans may label them as lower class and poor, calling them with all kinds of names, but the truth of the matter is the people of Agame are hardworking, who value the importance of any kind of work that leads to business successes and social enterprises. They are highly motivated and dedicated to achieving their dreams through the value of hard work. Therefore, those who treat them with racial bigotry and despise are those (the ones) who suffer from their own inferiority complex and envy. Because people who were subjugated as servants and slaves by colonialists cannot and should not look down on the people, who have always been free from all colonialist subjugation and slavery. As a matter of fact, the people of Agame have been proud to be always free and noble people to be envied by those who never been free.
Hence, the United Nations mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea should not be involved in what is considered perpetuation of racial biases based on ethnic preferences and lack of political neutrality. The UN body should be promoting a racial harmony and relational healing between the two nationalities, instead of deepening the already festering wounds caused by the already existing political animosity and racial prejudice. If all the allegations are true, the UNMEE’s anti-Ethiopian racial bigotry shared with Eritreans in various levels as their jokes and enjoyment is a serious disgrace to the image of the United Nations and its missions of peace in the world.
Is UNMEE’s Apology to Ethiopia Genuine Enough for Acceptance? First and Foremost, Who Should Deserve UNMEE’s Apology?
The press statement issued on 15 October 2002 by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia accused UNMEE for distorting and publicizing “the alleged October 4 incidents involving Ethiopian villagers who, according to UNMEE, crossed into the TSZ and then misbehaved.” The Press Statement said:
“UNMEE had been in receipt of two Notes dated 3 & 4 September 2002 from Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia in which the Ministry appealed to UNMEE in connection with ‘the grave acts of abduction and robbery committed by Eritrean soldiers in Irob Woreda.’ In those Notes, the Ministry pleaded with UNMEE ‘to take appropriate measures with a view to putting to an end these provocations and secure the return of the looted property without any further delay.’
“Ethiopia’s concern over these abductions and cattle rustling was again raised in person by Ethiopia authorities with the SRSG, Amssador Legwaila, on September 25, 2002….
“UNMEE had not yet responded to Ethiopia’s request when the alleged incidents took place on October 4. The alleged incidents – which is seriously being investigated by the Ethiopian side – was brought formally to the Ethiopian side by Mr. Cheikh-Tidiane Gaye, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General, on October 8, 2002.”
After Ethiopian Government’s investigation of the matter and strong criticism, UNMEE officials have apparently come to admit some wrongdoing.
As IRIN News reported from Addis Ababa on October 28, 2002, His Excellency Ambassador Legwaila Joseph Legwaila, Special Representative of the General Secretary “has expressed regret that details of ‘confidential’ talks with the Ethiopian government were passed on to journalists.” According to the News Report, in an interview he held with the Ethiopian television, he promised that he would not repeat such mistake by releasing “details of confidential meetings unless both governments agreed in advance.”
The Special Representative of the UN Secretary General seemed to apologize when he said: “But I have always said to everybody, by the way, the people who are handling this peace process are human beings and the governments are also run by human beings … Once in a while, there will be mistakes,” he said, according to the IRIN News report.
In my opinion, this regret does not seem a genuine repentance for the dishonesty and distortion of the truth about what really happened in the Irob Woreda with the Irob villagers and militiamen. The first and foremost apology should be made to the Irob people who have been used as a scapegoat and accused internationally for violating peace agreement and posing threat to the UN peacekeeping forces in the Temporary Security Zone.
Ambassador Legwaila’s regret is directed to the Ethiopian Government only for the UNMEE’s violation of “confidential talks” with the government for releasing their “secret” dealings to the news media. There is no sign of the UNMEE officials and troops regretting distorting the story about Irob villagers/militiamen or about the exact locations where the reported confrontations took place. Hence, this is truly hypocritical and deceptive apology that will not bring much needed healing to the victimized Irob people.
The UNMEE does not admit their lack of impartiality or their involvement in the alleged behavioral and moral misconduct that are contaminating their neutrality in their mission as United Nations’ peacekeeping body between two bitter foes, Eritrea and Ethiopia.
UNMEE’s Propaganda Used for Border Demarcation Was Very Offensive and Harmful to the Irobs
On October 11, 2002, at its media briefing, UNMEE deliberately had to use an insensitive report – quoting from the speech of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo – for the purpose of promoting a hasty border demarcation. As the UNMEE media briefing indicated, on October 7, 2002, when President Obasanjo arrived in Eritrea for a two-day official visit, he was briefed by the DSRSG and the Force Commander on the status of the peace process following The Hague Boundary Commission’s ruling on the border delimitation and demarcation between Ethiopia and Eritrea. The Report stated:
“In response, President Obasanjo emphasized his close relationship with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia and President Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea and said that he was familiar with problems related to demarcation of borders adding that the argument that demarcation would divide families was not compelling enough to hinder progress in the demarcation of the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea. He said that the legacy of colonial borders was a fact of life in Africa. He also stressed the need for confidence-building measures between Ethiopia and Eritrea in order to sustain the peace process.”
Thanks to the historical reality of ever-free Ethiopia, Ethiopians do neither like to hear nor accept the concept or legacy of colonialists as a “fact of life”, as it was emphasized by the President of Nigeria.
President Obasanjo’s comment of being friend of both Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi, and the President of Eritrea, Isaias Afeworki, and his familiarity “with problems related to border demarcation” do not necessarily justify the validity of his statement on the families that would be affected on the border areas from both Ethiopian and Eritrean sides. Personally, I have members of my own family already affected by this unfortunate political border-conflict of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Members of my family on the Eritrean side were forced to raise their weapons against members of their own family on the Ethiopian side of the border because the conflict caused deep hostility between the nationalities. My only sister with her children was not allowed to cross into Ethiopia to visit with her elderly mother and the rest of her family. Similarly, my mother and my brothers are not permitted to cross into Eritrea and pay a visit to her and her children and grandchildren who are in the Eritrean side of the border. This is just one personal example. There are so many stories like this long the border areas of both countries, particularly in the Irob region.
Therefore, in my opinion, the UNMEE officials have demonstrated lack of prudence by exploiting improperly the occasion and the political statement of President Obasanjo, which was emotionally indifferent and unsympathetic to those families, relatives, and friends to be adversely affected in the border areas of the two unfriendly countries. The statement can only be understood or interpreted as a merely insensitive propaganda aimed at promoting a hasty demarcation of the borders between the two hostile countries (Ethiopia and Eritrea). Those concerned Irobs, who have been advocating the internationally neglected cause of their voiceless and defenseless people in the Irobland, strongly condemn such a political endeavor as a very inhumane, cruel, and unjust treatment of other weaker human beings, whose civic and human rights have been ignored and trodden by some entities of the United Nations and some other irresponsible members of the International Community.
This critical statement has been written in response to the distorted story reported by UNMEE against the Irob villagers and militiamen concerning the alleged incidents occurred in the Aromo area last early October. As it was intended, it has tried to analyze, refute, and challenge the credibility of the story in defense of those voiceless Irob peasantries, who have been accused and given a serious warning of a possible military action by the United Nations peacekeeping forces and their high ranking officials. The statement has attempted to articulate the Irob people’s unheeded voice for justice; the violations of their civic and human rights in their own native-land by some foreign elements and interferences; and their growing frustration and anger against the United Nations body’s conspicuous impartiality and favoritism; as well as their frustration with their own government who lacked honesty and transparency regarding the credible border issues and/or their people’s political and territorial fates.
The statement has made an effort to raise questions concerning those alleged behavioral and moral misconducts of the UN peacekeepers, who have been blamed for their lack of neutrality and improper political and ethnic favoritism, as well as for meddling in the two countries political interests and conflicts. The statement has also strongly criticized the alleged anti-Ethiopian racial slur and bigotry, as it was reported by one particular writer. It was appalling and infuriating to hear that the anti-Ethiopian racial derogatory and offensive remarks had been routinely used as common jokes and enjoyments in the circles of UNMEE officials and peacekeeper troops as well as in their offices.
Finally, the author of this critical statement would like to urge and plead with the United Nations Security Council and the International Community, in general, to look carefully into the burning issues of the Irobland and its inhabitants before the implementation of the scheduled demarcation of the borders between the two hostile countries should take place.
For the sake of peace and stability in the region, therefore, the writer of this statement strongly believes and appeals that it is imperative that the United Nations and other concerned members of the International Community should seriously address and find solutions for the following issues:
a) Investigate and find the truth about the allegation of the “internationally publicized threat” made on the UN peacekeepers in the Temporary Security Zone, for which the Irob villagers and militiamen were accused of by the UNMEE in October 2002.
b) Investigate thoroughly the allegations raised against the UNMEE concerning the issues of impartiality, favoritism, and neutrality which can directly or indirectly affect or damage the peacekeeping mission of the United Nations in Ethiopia and Eritrea.
c) Look carefully into the allegation brought up against UNMEE officers and personnel about the anti-Ethiopian racial bias and bigotry as reported by one credible writer from Ethiopia and take necessary correctional actions.
d) Heed to the Irob minority’s cry for justice, fairness, civic and human rights in their quest and struggle to remain as one nationality of their preference. Therefore, rectifying the erroneous Hague Boundary Commission’s decision, which is destined to their compulsory and detrimental division that would threaten their social existence as a minority group, should be considered and accepted as the most healthy and preferable solution to the Irobland and its people. The United Nations and the International Community of a civilized world must prevent from splitting the Irob ethnic minority and other peoples found in the border areas into two hostile nationalities against their political and/or patriotic will by creating another “Berlin Wall” of division and distrust.
e) Investigate, at least on a humanitarian ground, the unresolved issues of over 100 Irobs, who have been abducted by the Eritrean forces and taken as prisoners from 1998-2002. And they are, according to some unsubstantiated rumors and information, still languishing in various Eritrean jails and labor camps. Hence, it is a matter of conscience and humanitarian obligation of the United Nations and the International Community to investigate and resolve this people’s life and death issues before anything else.
f) Compensate and rehabilitate the Irob people, whose socioeconomic fabrics were gravely damaged through unprovoked invasion, aggression, forced occupation, confiscation of their meager possessions, and deliberate destruction of their properties by the invading forces from 1998-2000.