By OPride Staff
New York, NY – Eritrea has captured the disputed border town of Badme over the last three days in retaliation for Ethiopian provocation, sources told OPride. Ethiopian sources, who refused to talk on the record, reject the loss while tacitly acknowledging that battle is underway, which, they claim, Eritrea initiated.
The town of Badme was the flash point for the 1998-2000 Ethio-Eritrean war. A UN-sponsored arbitration panel awarded the tiny town to Eritrea, which Ethiopia refused to relinquish. If confirmed, this week’s skirmish would represent a major escalation since the end of the war in 2000 that consumed 70,000 lives.
On June 6, Ethiopian newspaper, The Reporter, said, “the Eritrean Army launched heavy artillery attack on Sunday around 3:30 pm…and as a result one Elementary school called Badme Elementary School was fully damaged with fire.” No causalities were reported.
Similarly, the Ethiopian-government affiliated AigaForum carried a line about Ethiopian incursions deep into Eritrean territory pursuing what it termed Eritrea-backed saboteurs.
Sporadic reports have also appeared on social media. “Today, Eritrea deploying more troops near to Badme after exchange of fire and Ethiopia incursion since the last 2 weeks,” wrote journalist Argaw Ashine on Twitter. Eritrean blogs have been reporting about the escalation of conflict since May 26.
Other sources dismiss the latest skirmish as a "usual cross-border raids and subsequent reprisals." However, it is to be remembered that the 1998 war was ignited with such minor incidents.
The two nations, both heavily armed, routinely accuse each other of arming dissident groups. “Ethiopia has several thousand Eritrean rebels who are ready to do its bidding and so does Eritrea,” said one Horn of Africa analyst who asked not to be named.
In March, Ethiopia attacked rebel bases inside Eritrea, accusing Asmara of training subversive elements. At the time, Eritrea's Information minister, Ali Abdu, claimed Eritrea exercised restraint but accused the United States for covertly encouraging Ethiopia in the attack.
Last January, Ethiopian Afar rebels ambushed western tourists in the country’s northern desert – killing two Germans, two Hungarians and an Austrian tourist.
Both countries remain under authoritarian rules. Ethiopia outwardly presents a façade of democracy while being increasingly repressive, whereas Eritrea is unabashed about its one-man rule.
While US-Eritrea relations are strained, Ethiopia is Washington’s major African ally in the war on terror. Late last year, the UN Security Council, with Ethiopia's incessant push, approved tougher sanctions on Eritrea over concerns that it provided “political, financial, training and logistical support of armed opposition groups,” including the Somali based al-Qaeda affiliate in the horn of Africa, al-Shabaab. Eritrea denies the charges vehemently.
On Thursday, the U.S State Department added seven senior al-Shabaab commanders to its terrorist list, offering a total of $33 million in rewards for information leading to their capture – including $7 million for the militant group’s operational leader Ahmed Abdi aw-Mohamed.
After a brief hiatus, armies from the two Sudan states, the North and the newly independent South, are faced off on a contested oil-rich border. With Somalia still in a malaise, unabated even after the deployment of contingents of troops from five African states, a new war between the two other Horn of Africa countries, Eritrea and Ethiopia, if confirmed, pundits say, would "exacerbate an already fragile regional conflagration."