Ethiopia or Eritrea? Border community fears split

A statue of Bishop Jacob stands at the Lideta Mariam Catholic monastery church in Alitena, a town in Ethiopia on the border with Eritrea on July 12, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 20 July 2018
0

Ethiopia or Eritrea? Border community fears split

“This place is definitely Ethiopian,” said farmer Haise Woldu, 76, gesturing to a church with an ornate brick facade in Engal, set to a backdrop of a jagged mountain range.
His town Engal lies along the arid frontier between Ethiopia and Eritrea, whose exact border has been a subject of debate for over a century and the cause of a deadly war between the two nations which ended last week.
A breakneck peace process between the former foes over the past six weeks hinges on Ethiopia’s vow to finally abide by a 2002 United Nations ruling on the frontier, which states that Engal is in fact Eritrean.
This means Haisie’s minority ethnic Irob community, spread across the region, could be rent in two, with some ending up in Eritrea while others remain in Ethiopia.
“This decision will divide the population,” said Daniel Hagos, a Catholic priest in Alitena, an Irob town 10 kilometers northeast of Engal.
“If brothers are divided, that will be a problem. I don’t think peace will come.”
Other leaders of the Irob community, which speaks the Kushitic Saho language, want peace but warn that changing the status quo could wreak havoc with their way of life.
They have warned transferring land in the rugged Irob region to Eritrea would also force visitors to Ethiopia’s Irob areas to pass through Eritrea.
In the past 150 years, Eritrea has passed through the hands of the Ottomans, Egyptians, Italians, British and Ethiopians which annexed it in 1952 after a brief period of autonomy.
The tiny Red Sea nation — which comprised Ethiopia’s entire coastline — went on to fight a bloody independence war before successfully leaving after a 1993 referendum.
The resulting border was never properly defined leading to a dispute that sparked clashes and escalated into all-out war that claimed 80,000 lives between 1998 and the signature of a peace deal in 2000.

Hostilities

Eritrea captured the Irob areas early in the conflict and held the territory for almost the duration of hostilities.
The region is one of the few centers of Ethiopian Catholicism, introduced in the 19th century by Italian saint Justin de Jacobis.
It is dotted with Catholic and Orthodox churches perched on cliffs and hills.
Ethiopia’s rejection of a 2002 UN ruling on the demarcation of the border threw Addis Ababa’s relations with Asmara into deadlock, prompting Eritrea to seal its borders.
The stalemate appeared destined to continue indefinitely until Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took office in April, announcing an aggressive reform agenda — and stunning observers by agreeing to respect the boundary ruling.
Huge crowds turned out in Asmara to welcome Abiy and in Addis Ababa to greet Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki.
But in the Irob district, accessed by a narrow dirt track dotted with military checkpoints, residents protested Abiy’s announcement.
Irob people guard their rights jealously and fear the return of the Eritreans who abused them during the occupation, according to district administrator Niguse Hagos.
“This decision will disintegrate the people of Irob,” he warned, adding that the land ruled Eritrean by the UN is home to one-third of the district’s 33,000 people.
No land appears to have changed hands yet and an AFP correspondent saw Ethiopian tanks deployed to the area with their barrels facing Eritrea.
Some Irob people hope that peace between the neighbors could improve their situation.
The nearby Eritrean market town of Senafe would become accessible, potentially stimulating trade in the impoverished region.

Eritrea’s occupation

Other locals hope warming relations will help them learn what happened to the 96 Irob people who disappeared during Eritrea’s occupation.
“Ever since the news, we’ve all been glued to the television,” said Abrahet Niguse, a trader whose husband was taken by Eritrean troops for allegedly giving food to Ethiopian soldiers.
“If the two countries make peace, maybe my husband will come back again.”
Eritrea, once vocal in demanding the land awarded to it by the UN, has toned down its appeals in recent weeks.
During his visit to Addis Ababa last week, Isaias hugged and joked with Abiy — but did not mention the issue.
The bond between the two men could make the exact demarcation of the new border irrelevant, according to Mammo Muchie, a professor at Tshwane University of Technology in South Africa.
“The border should be secondary now. The relationship is most important,” he said.
“(Borders) will always create problems.”
Many Irob people yearn for the era before the war when they could cross between their now artificially divided valleys.
“We want peace,” said Girmay Abraha, a driver born in the area. “But we believe it shouldn’t come by giving away land.”


French police prepare for fifth wave of yellow vest protests

Updated 14 December 2018
0

French police prepare for fifth wave of yellow vest protests

PARIS: France will deploy tens of thousands of police nationwide and around 8,000 in Paris on Saturday to handle a fifth weekend of ‘yellow vest’ protests, although the movement appears to be losing steam after concessions by President Emmanuel Macron.
The chief of police in Paris said concerns remained about violent groups infiltrating the protests. Anti-riot officers will protect landmarks such as the Arc de Triomphe and prevent people getting close to the presidential palace.
“We need to be prepared for worst-case scenarios,” police chief Michel Delpuech told RTL radio.
He expected businesses in the capital to be less affected this weekend after heavy disruption over the past three weeks when major stores shut, hotels suffered cancelations and tourists stayed away during the usually busy run-up to Christmas.
Nicknamed “Acte V” of the protests, the yellow vest demonstrators will take to the streets this weekend as France recovers from an unrelated attack on a Christmas market in the eastern city of Strasbourg on Tuesday, when a gunman shot and killed three people and wounded several others.
Hundreds of police officers were redeployed to Strasbourg to search for the gunman, who was shot dead in an exchange of fire on Thursday evening.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said it was time for the yellow vests to scale down their protests and accept they had achieved their aims. Police officers also deserved a break, he added.
“I’d rather have the police force doing their real job, chasing criminals and combating the terrorism threat, instead of securing roundabouts where a few thousand people keep a lot of police busy,” he said.
TOLL ON THE ECONOMY
Attractions such as the Louvre museum and Opera Garnier will be open this weekend, as will luxury department stores like Galeries Lafayette and Printemps. Last Saturday they were closed as thousands of sometimes violent protesters tore through the city. The previous weekend the Arc de Triomphe was vandalized, cars were overturned and torched and businesses smashed up.
The protests have taken a toll on the economy, with output in the last quarter of the year set to be half initial projections, while Macron’s concessions are likely to push the budget deficit above an EU agreed limit.
The yellow vest movement, which began as a protest against fuel taxes and then grew into an anti-Macron alliance, appears to have calmed since the president announced a series of measures to help the working poor.
However, many people wearing the high-visibility motorists’ safety jackets which are the symbol of the protests were manning barricades outside cities on Friday.
After heavy criticism for not being seen to respond to the protesters’ complaints, Macron made a TV address this week during which he said he understood their concerns and acknowledged the need for a different approach.
As well canceling fuel tax increases that were due to kick in next month, Macron said he would increase the minimum wage by 100 euros a month from January and reduce taxes for poorer pensioners, among other measures.
Since the first yellow vest protests on Nov. 17, supporters have kept up a steady stream of dissent, although the numbers joining marches have steadily fallen. ($1 = 0.8857 euros)