Ethiopia: Bean Counters Keep The Peace


January 31, 2008: The fighting continues in Somalia, where Ethiopian troops have been operating for 13 months. Casualty figures have not been released, but reports from Mogadishu, where most of the Ethiopian troops are, indicate at least a few dead and wounded each week. The Ethiopians have been there nearly 60 weeks, so it appears they have suffered more than 500 casualties. But the Ethiopian force in Somalia is not large (about three percent of the 180,000 troops on active duty), and they have the upper hand in the battle with Islamic radical groups they are fighting. The big problem is that this violence may go on for years, because that's the way these situations have played out in the past. Ethiopia is believed to be getting some assistance (money, equipment, intelligence) from the United States (which has a large counter-terrorism force based next to northern Somalia, in Djibouti). Thus Ethiopia can continue its Somalia operation for as long as it needs to (possibly years.)

January 30, 2008: The UN wants to reduce its forces along the Ethiopia-Eritrea border, where 1700 soldiers and observers are still serving with UNMEE. Completely withdrawing the peacekeeping force, however, would remove the international "tripwire" that separates the two nations. Ethiopia and Eritrea continue to fight a proxy war in Somalia and Ethiopia accuses Eritrea of supporting rebel forces operating in Ethiopia's Ogaden region. Ethiopian and Eritrea forces still confront one another along the border, particularly in the Badme region. Still, many diplomats express increasing frustration with the stand-off. The Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission dissolved in November 2007 without getting a permanent agreement between the two countries. Ethiopia never accepted the commission's decision to award Badme to Eritrea. A 25-km wide Temporary Security Zone (TSZ) separates Eritrean and Ethiopian forces. Both nations periodically move more troops to the border, but neither country can afford the expense of another round of fighting. This does not mean another border war is impossible, just that the people running the two countries are constantly reminded by their bean counters that another round of fighting would bring long term financial headaches, plus the usual scolding from the UN and the international media.

January 25, 2008: Ethiopia claimed that Eritrean forces fired on two Eritrean soldiers who were attempting to cross the Ethiopian border and surrender to Ethiopian forces. Eritrea denied the accusation and said that actually Ethiopian soldiers were "deserting to Eritrea."

January 20, 2008: The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) appears to have two distinct wings. One wing favors greater regional autonomy within Ethiopia for the Ogaden region. The other, the "Somali faction," prefers the Ogaden join Somalia. The separatist faction gets most of the attention from the police and army.


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