On 12th June 2016, an outbreak of intense fighting was reported along the border areas between Eritrea and Ethiopia, raising the spectre of a fresh full-scale war breaking out. Troops from both countries have been involved in serious clashes. Local witnesses have confirmed the presence of heavy artillery and large numbers of troops of both nationalities in the Tsorona border area, and heavy guns have apparently been fired from both sides. On the Eritrean side, several people are reported to have been killed. The Eritrean authorities have blamed the Ethiopian forces for unleashing a full-scale attack on the frontier. The Ethiopian government said that Eritrea started hostilities. The conflict highlights the fact that the Eritrea-Ethiopia border remains un-demarcated, despite an Independent Boundary Commission ruling in April 2002.
Recent detailed information from Gedab News suggests that several Eritrean youths, conscript members under National Service, crossed the border into Ethiopia, trying to escape from their military conscription. Beyond the border town of Tsorona, on the Ethiopian side, were stationed at least three armed Eritrean opposition groups. The Eritrean Defence Forces (EDF), pursuing the “deserters”, fired at the escapees. Members of Eritrea’s opposition groups returned fire. The Eritrean Defence Forces escalated the conflict by using mortars and rocket-propelled grenades. According to the report by Gedab News, the desperate need of young Eritreans to escape the indefinite military conscription was clearly the trigger for this incident.
This renewed border fighting occurred shortly after the UN Human Rights Council Commission of Inquiry published a report on 8th June 2016 accusing the Eritrean regime of carrying out crimes against humanity and recommending that Eritrean officials should be held accountable at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Some commentators believe that the two events are not unconnected, and that the renewed hostilities are intended by the Eritrean government to distract attention from the Commission’s Report and to justify the retention of military conscription for all Eritrean school leavers for an unlimited period of time.
Human Rights Concern-Eritrea (HRCE) wishes to alert the world to the immediate and grave dangers posed by these hostilities. HRCE is deeply concerned that these military clashes between the two states could easily escalate into full-scale war, with the inevitable loss lives, if urgent peace negotiations do not start at once. HRCE calls on both parties to put into effect an immediate ceasefire. HRCE also urges the United Nations Security Council and the African Union to take swift action, and to either sponsor face-to-face peace negotiations or broker intermediary-led peace talks to end the violence.
HRCE urges the Ethiopian government to withdraw from number of Eritrean villages that it has occupied during the latest clashes in order to allow civilians to return to their homes.
HRCE also urges both governments to release all those taken captives.
Human Rights Concern – Eritrea (HRCE)
14 June 2016