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Colonial Treaties & Maps Disputed

Sides Agree On Colonial Treaties But Maps Disputed

UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
December 20, 2001
Posted to the web December 20, 2001

Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin left for The Hague in the Netherlands on Wednesday, stating he expected his country's border with Eritrea to be demarcated on the basis of international laws and treaties.

According to the Ethiopian News Agency (ENA), Seyoum said his visit to the International Court at The Hague was aimed at reaffirming Ethiopia's position prior to the Boundary Commission's final decision on border demarcation between the two countries. Over the 10 days, both sides have been presenting their cases to the commission, which will give its ruling in February.

Seyoum said the Algiers peace accord, signed last year after a two-year border war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, stipulated that international laws and treaties would serve as the basis for the ruling. "The Eritrean government seems to have chosen to depend on maps prepared by colonial Italy and those prepared by successive Ethiopian governments to justify its claim of territories," he stated. But, he said, the Italian maps reflected the unilateral interests of colonial Italy and could not serve as an authorised international boundary, while the maps of the Ethiopian governments "were not only mere duplications of the maps of colonial Italy, but also served as internal administrative borders considering Eritrea as an integral part of Ethiopia".

"The Ethiopian government hopes that the ruling of the international court of arbitration will not be subject to political considerations and compromises," he added. He stated that Ethiopia upheld the international laws and treaties signed with Italy in 1900, 1902 and 1908, a position also supported by the Eritrean government.

"We believe that our boundary with Ethiopia must be determined by following the three colonial treaties that Italy signed with Ethiopia almost a century ago," Eritrean Foreign Minister Ali Sayyid Abdallah told the commission last week. He noted that "the Emperor of Ethiopia was a driving force in declaration of the principle of respect for colonial treaties" and urged the Ethiopian government to abide by this "consistent adherence to international law".

"No country in Africa will be at peace with its neighbours if colonial boundaries can be renegotiated, especially by force," Ali Sayyid said, accusing Ethiopia of "entertaining secret ambitions to expand".

Regional analysts told IRIN that while Ethiopia abides by the three colonial treaties, it believes the maps are not reflected in these agreements. Successive Ethiopian governments have simply reproduced the colonial maps. Italy lost control of its Eritrean colony (to Britain) in 1941, after occupying it in the 1880s. In 1952, Eritrea was federated to Ethiopia under the rule of Emperor Haile Selassie who then annexed the territory in 1962 to make Eritrea the 14th province of Ethiopia. A year earlier, the Eritrean liberation war began.

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