Ethiopia-Eritrea peace deal yields dividend in flashpoint town

Twenty one-year-old Merhawi Yayneshet, an Ethiopian resident of Badme town, vaguely remembers the outbreak of war in May 1998 between Ethiopia and Eritrea. 

As a five months old baby, Yayneshet was then taken in the arms of his father to escape fighting in Badme town, widely considered to be the main starting point in a two-year bloody border war between Ethiopia and Eritrea that left an estimated 70,000 people dead from both sides. 

The border war was ended after the two countries signed a peace deal in December 2000.  

However, the two countries remained in a state of bitter armed standoff until July 2018, when a series of rapid diplomatic exchanges between the two former enemies resulted in a peace deal. 

 The rapid diplomatic thaw between the two countries has also seen Ethiopia and Eritrea restore air links, telephone lines, trade routes and re-open their respective diplomatic missions.

Speaking to Xinhua, Yayneshet said although he was too young to remember much of the two-year border war, he was a witness to several deadly skirmishes between the two armies, one of which nearly cost his life.  

“My family returned to Badme after the end of the two-year border war. However, the war was replaced with an armed standoff that occasionally turned into deadly firefights,” he said.  

“In one particular bloody skirmish in 2012, our house was hit, while several civilians were killed and others maimed. My father built an underground bunker after that, which we used as shelter every night to avoid getting hit in a crossfire,” he said.    

Yayneshet said his family used to alternate their homes between Badme and towns far away from the Eritrean border, because of the insecurity, but the peace deal has ended his family’s ordeal.  

“I was able to return permanently to Badme after the peace deal was signed in July 2018. The peace deal has also allowed me to visit for the first-time family members across the border in Eritrea,” he said.

While the two countries’ border points in Badme haven’t been formally opened to traffic yet, Ethiopian and Eritrean people move relatively freely across the two countries’ borders, helping reenergise the formerly sleepy border town. 

The flat lands surrounding Badme are rich in mineral resources including gold and have fertile soil used to cultivate crops like sesame and barley. –Xinhua

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