A report from AFP tells how this agreement between the two countries is struggling to materialize.
Lack of border lines, Eritrean refugees ever more numerous and Ethiopians arrested and beaten … an AFP report recounts the difficulties of implementing the peace agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea.
When she learned that Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, Zaid Aregawi first thought of her brother Alem, who is languishing in an Eritrean prison on the other side of the border. Alem had been to Eritrea more than five months ago, after being ordered to bring back wood by an Eritrean businessman. Exactly the kind of trade that people expected to see prospered after last summer's signing of a peace agreement between the two countries. But Alem was arrested without explanation by Eritrean soldiers. According to the Ethiopian authorities, many Ethiopians have recently suffered the same fate.
For Zaid and his Ethiopian compatriots, these detentions are the most obvious sign that the peace agreement, the main reason why the Nobel was awarded to Mr. Abiy, is far from being realized. “If there is no freedom of movement on both sides, what is the purpose of the peace agreement?wonders Zaid. They say it's peace, yet we have big problems along the border. “
Mr. Abiy's attention is currently focused on the ethnic and religious violence that erupted last week in Addis Ababa, before spreading to the region near Oromia, and left at least 67 dead, according to the report. police.
But hundreds of kilometers further north, in the Tigray region, the most affected by the 1998-2000 war with Eritrea and the years of hidden conflict that followed, frustration is gaining. The residents complain that no progress has been made in demarcating the more than 1,000 km of border between Ethiopia and its former province, which has been independent since 1993.
Eritrean refugees – who continue to arrive by the hundreds every day in Ethiopia, according to the UN – observe that peace has not changed the behavior of the Eritrean President, Issaias Afeworki, at the head of a regime considered as one of the most repressive in the world by the organizations defending human rights.
And almost everyone regrets that bilateral relations are limited to discussions between MM. Issaias and Abiy, without the people living on the border being involved at all. “We can say that peace is in limbo”Ahmed Yahya Abdi, an Eritrean refugee who has lived in Ethiopia since the war, says. “When Abiy went to Eritrea he took a plane to Asmara, but he did not implement peace here on the border between the two countries. “
The demilitarization of the border, mainly on the Ethiopian side, is the main advance of the peace agreement, according to residents. This allowed Ethiopians to attend weddings or funerals in Eritrea without being overly concerned by the security forces.
But Yosef Misgina, an administrative head of the Ethiopian city of Dawhan, said he regularly receives information about Ethiopians being arrested, imprisoned and beaten in Eritrea. A few days before the Nobel was awarded to Mr. Abiy on October 11, 13 Ethiopian traders were arrested in Eritrea, two of whom are still imprisoned.
Tsegay Suba Tesfay is another example. He spent two weeks in a crowded cell after being stopped by Eritrean soldiers while carrying water and rice. He says he was beaten several times, deprived of food and allowed to leave his cell for only a few minutes a day. “They give you no reason when they stop youhe says. In Eritrea, there is no freedom. “
For Mr. Yosef, the persistent ambiguity about the status of the border explains these arrests. Border crossings opened after the signing of the peace agreement. But they were closed a few months later and no one knows when they will reopen. “Now we ask that peace be institutionalizedhe says. If it is institutionalized, it will no longer be disrupted by individuals. “
The demarcation of the border remains the main source of concern in the region.
At the signing of the agreement, Abiy surprised everyone by saying he was ready to accept a 2002 ruling by an independent UN-backed international commission that favored Eritrea. If this judgment, still rejected so far by Ethiopia, is applied, Ethiopian cities will move to the Eritrean side and the Irob community will be split in two.
Despite Abiy's concessions, many analysts suspect Eritrea of slowing down the demarcation process. “I would say that the Eritrean government probably wants to go a little slower, because the rapprochement has implications for the domestic situation in Eritrea.It has been a closed country for 20 years”says Michael Woldemariam, an expert at Boston University. “The contradictions between this new era of peace on the outside and the internal situation in Eritrea will be a major challenge in the future”, he predicts.