The Secretary General unceremoniously terminated the mandate of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission this week. The commission was formed as part of the 2000 Algiers Agreement that ended the bloody border skirmish between the two countries. Per the agreement, both sides agreed that the commission’s ruling on the proper boundary between Ethiopia and Eritrea would be binding and final. In April 2002, the Commission issued its final ruling, which awarded the disputed town of Badme to Eritrea. Ethiopia refused to abide by the ruling and a stalemate ensued.
Injected, literally, in the middle of this stalemate were some 4,000 UN Peacekeepers deployed to the United Nations Mission to Ethiopia-Eritrea, known as UNMEE. Over time, Eritrea grew increasingly frustrated by the international community’s inability to press Ethiopia into living up the the Algiers Agreement. It expressed this frustration in an unhelpful way by harassing UNMEE. Last spring Eritrea cut off fuel supplies to the peacekeepers, and UNMEE was forced to withdraw and shutter its operations.
The termination of the boundary commission was really just a formality. In effect, the stalemate that persists today began when one party to the conflict refused to live up to its previous agreement–and the international community refused to prop up the commission. The losers in all of this is the vulnerable population living near the re-militarized border. They have already suffered enough. But without peacekeepers acting as a buffer, the conflict is poised to reignite.