ETHIOPIA-ERITREA: Breifing by UN Special Envoy Sahnoun 1999.2.11

ETHIOPIA-ERITREA: Breifing by UN Special Envoy Sahnoun 1999.2.11

10 February 1999


The military build-up over the last few months in Ethiopia and Eritrea had reached such proportions that the world could soon be witnessing the first high-tech war in Africa, Mohamed Sahnoun, Special Envoy of the SecretaryGeneral in Africa, said during a press briefing this afternoon at Headquarters.

Mr. Sahnoun, who had briefed the Security Council this morning on the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea after his recent visit to the region, said that each country had high-tech fighter planes and bombers at its disposal and that the situation was extremely serious for both countries. "It is a disaster", he said.

He added that there was a need for the international community to address the issue and put pressure on both sides to put an end to the nonsensical war. The Secretary-General had called on the parties to cease hostilities immediately and give diplomatic solutions a chance. Without such efforts, there could be a full-scale war with horrendous destruction and repercussions for the entire region.

Having lived in Ethiopia for 10 years as Deputy Secretary-General for the Organization of African Unity (OAU), he said he knew the countries and both leaders well and had worked very closely with them. They were a source of inspiration in understanding and dealing with the issues affecting Africa. Both leaders had made a unique contribution to the OAU conflict-resolution process in the past. He hoped the leaders would heed the appeals of their friends around the world and bring an end to the current conflict.

Good governance in Africa was not easy in the face of so many difficult legacies and challenges, he said. Development was still insufficient to allow for prosperity that would cut across social, tribal or regional differences. It was incomprehensible, however, how two modern, independent States that seemed to have modern leadership and that seemed to be making important strides internally, could come to fight each other. It was important that the Security Council make a very strong appeal for the immediate cessation of hostilities there.

What was the rationale of both countries entering into the conflict? a correspondent asked. Mr. Sahnoun said it was not a mere border dispute. The conflict had its background in a number of contentions; however given the type of leadership the two countries had, they should have been able to resolve their differences. The tremendous military build-up by both countries had contributed to the escalation of the conflict.

Mr. Sahnoun was then asked why the conflict had flared up again in the last week. He said he wished he knew the reason. He could not really tell, but when he had been in the region he had been optimistic that there was hope for a peaceful solution. He had argued in favour of the OAU Framework Agreement and for both countries to invest in peace, which would reap both political and economic benefits. He believed the reaction of both leaders was positive.

Who was selling the high-tech weapons to both sides? a correspondent asked. Mr. Sahnoun said that he did not know -- that was a question that was better addressed to the countries.

The correspondent then asked why there had been so little action by the world community to respond to the conflict and what had been the role of countries such as the United States in bringing peace? Mr. Sahnoun responded that the United States Special Envoy to the region, Anthony Lake, had made four trips to the region. After his last trip, Mr. Lake had reported back to the United Nations. That was when Mr. Sahnoun had been sent on his mission to the region.

Was there any will on the part of the Security Council to impose an arms embargo and was that the best solution? a correspondent asked. Mr. Sahnoun responded that the President of the Security Council was in a better position to answer that question and that the will of the Council would be set out in its resolution on the matter.

A correspondent asked where the countries were getting the money for all the weapons and whether Mr. Sahnoun's job was more difficult now that the United Nations had fewer resources to address conflicts in the region. He said that the United Nations should be given more means to address such issues and that the international community should be more involved. It was not enough to pass a resolution and forget about the issue. There should be strong bilateral actions and a warning of sanctions to be imposed if the conflict severely affected civilians.

What was the next policy option now that the OAU Framework Agreement had been rejected by the Eritreans? Mr. Sahnoun was asked. He said there were two directions. There was a need for an immediate end to hostilities and the Security Council had to take whatever measures it felt necessary to bring about that end. In the other direction, the OAU could meet and recommend more actions to bring a resolution to the conflict.

A correspondent asked what Mr. Sahnoun and the Council had discussed as options if the resolution was ignored by the parties? Mr. Sahnoun said that such a question would be better answered by the President of the Council.

Asked whether the conflict went against the argument that the world would only be facing internal conflict and not inter-State conflict, Mr. Sahnoun said that in Africa most conflicts would be internal. It had taken centuries for Europe to develop the States that it had today. There was a need for development in Africa -- if there was no investment in development, then there would be no peace in the those countries. He hoped that this kind of conflict between two independent States would be the exception and such conflicts would not occur in the future.

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Date: Thu, 11 Feb 1999 13:17:53 +0300 (EAT) From: IRIN - Central and Eastern Africa <> Subject: ETHIOPIA-ERITREA: Breifing by UN Special Envoy Sahnoun 1999.2.11

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar,