The European Union considers implementing the Algiers Agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea in 2000 essential to bringing peace to northern Ethiopia and the overall stability of the Horn of Africa country.
In a statement released on December 22, 2022, the European Council raised issues pertaining to the pending border issues related to the Ethio-Eritrean border town of Badme and the current arguments over the withdrawal of Eritrean troops from Tigray regional state.
“Ethiopia’s overall stability, sovereignty, and territorial integrity, as well as peaceful development, are key for the region and for the EU. The EU strongly calls on Ethiopia’s regional neighbors to constructively contribute to the full implementation of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement,” reads the council’s statement.
The statement further underlined the importance of the 2000 Algiers Agreement and the 2018 Peace Declaration between Ethiopia and Eritrea. “The EU reiterates its call for an immediate and complete withdrawal of Eritrean troops from Ethiopia,” the statement reads.
Both the EU and the US government have been vocal about the fact that the withdrawal of Eritrean forces from Tigray is decisive for the cessation of hostilities.
The EPRDF agreed to give Eritrea Badme, a border town between Ethiopia’s northern tip and Eritrea, as part of the Algiers Agreement in 2000. But the town is still on the Ethiopian side because the agreement hasn’t been put into action yet.
Tigrayan combatants accuse Eritrean forces of crossing the Ethiopian border and controlled the border town, following the war that broke out in North Ethiopia in November 2020.
But after the federal government and TPLF resolved the two-year war last November peacefully, TPLF officials have been blaming Eritrean forces still remaining in Tigray for committing crimes against civilians. TPLF officials also demanded the full withdrawal of Eritrean troops as a precondition before surrendering their weapons.
On the other hand, the Ethiopian government has officially stated that there are no Eritrean troops inside its borders.
“The Ethiopian government and IGAD also do not recognize there are Eritrean troops inside Ethiopia,” said an IGAD official who spoke to The Reporter on the condition of anonymity.
However, government officials unofficially admit Eritrean troops are in Badme, which the Ethiopian government does not object to.
“As per the 2018 peace agreement, Prime Minister Abiy and President Isaias agreed to implement the Algiers agreement, which means Badme is given to Eritrea. In return, Eritrea assisted Ethiopian troops in the fight against the TPLF. But now, I do not think Eritrean forces are in Tigray, besides Badme,” an insider close to the matter who spoke to The Reporter anonymously said.
The insider says the TPLF is demanding that Eritrean forces withdraw from Badme to the pre-November 2020 border line. “The EU and US are trying to use the Badme case against Isaias. The west sees Isaias as a dictator and non-cooperative.”
Despite signing the Algiers agreement, previous administrations did not implement it. Eritrea and Ethiopia were in a no-war, no-peace stance until Abiy took power in April 2018. But after Abiy and Isaias normalized the relationship between Ethiopia and Eritrea, TPLF officials strongly opposed the move.
Normalization of the relationship between Eritrea and Ethiopia and the 2018 agreement between Isaias and PM Abiy without the participation of TPLF, the dominant party during the 1998-99 war, are also the core reasons of the North Ethiopian conflict, according to observers. As per the 2018 agreement, the Ethiopian government agreed to fully implement the Algiers agreement, which means handing over Badme to Eritrea. The agreement also includes economic cooperation, including access to Eritrean ports.
While the name of Eritrea did not explicitly emerge in the recent agreements, the senior commanders’ agreement in Nairobi last month stated all foreign forces should withdraw from Tigray but did not specify if this demand included withdrawal from Badme.
The parties’ top commanders signed the Terms of Reference (ToR) on December 22, 2022, in Nairobi. The ToR also says that an AU team of experts will be sent to Tigray to “verify the withdrawal of foreign and non-ENDF forces to their respective borders and ensure the deployment of ENDF along Ethiopia’s international border and in areas that are convenient for its operation.”
However, Uhuru Kenyatta, the former President of Kenya and member of the AU panel that facilitated the peace agreement, hinted that the issue of Eritrea had been raised during the negotiations.
“Part of the agreement that was signed by the senior commanders last time stated the removal of all foreign forces from the Tigray region. Without mentioning names or saying this and that, it is indeed part of the agreement that is out there. All foreign forces will be out of the Tigray region. That is a stated fact,” Kenyatta said during his press briefing regarding the ToR agreement on December 22, 2022.
Yet, it remains unclear whether the EU is calling for the withdrawal of Eritrean forces from Badme or other parts of Tigray. However, the AU monitoring and verification team, which is expected to be in Tigray this week, is expected to put the confusion to rest.