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Vol 39 No 11

Published 29th May 1998


Murder in the family

The Ethiopian/Eritrean border conflict helps the Sudan government and undermines Washington's vision of a New Africa

The fighting between Ethiopia and Eritrea, which initially caused between six and 20 deaths, took everyone by surprise, not least the United States, a close ally of both countries. Only two weeks earlier, Eritrean Defence Minister Sebhat Efrem and presidential security chief Abreha Kassa were in Addis Ababa socialising with their opposite numbers. Then a minor and probably unplanned skirmish on 6 May escalated into battle by 12 May, when Eritrean armoured units clashed with Ethiopian paratroops near Badme in the ‘Yirga Triangle’. By 19 May, Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin was warning of the danger of full-scale conflict if Eritrea did not unconditionally withdraw. Africa Confidential understands that Ethiopia had originally scheduled a full-scale response for 20 May. Though it quietly delayed operations for a week and possibly longer, there were fears that both sides had deployed so massively that war might break out anyway. This is essentially a family quarrel - but most murders happen in the family.

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