Tigrayan officials warn of clashes over Badme

The president of Ethiopia’s Tigray region, which borders Eritrea, has warned of local clashes following a recent announcement that the controversial village of Badme is in Eritrea.

Tsirgay Berhe, who heads the regional government in Tigray, said the local population might not accept the decision. On Friday, the independent Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC) categorically stated that the symbolic village of Badme - where the two countries' border war flared up in 1998 - was in Eritrea. The EEBC rejected attempts by Ethiopia to "vary" the delimited border line, ahead of physical demarcation due to start in July.

“In my view this is not justice but is creating problems, not only now but for the coming generations,” Tsirgay told IRIN. He pointed out that communities would be divided under the ruling.

Speaking in the Tigrayan regional capital Mekele, he warned of resistance by the local population which could spark clashes with the Eritrean militia. Those clashes could escalate if Ethiopian forces became involved, he added.

“We don’t know, we don’t understand, how the commission has decided this,” he said.

Tsirgay, who has held his post for just over a year, insisted that throughout history Badme had belonged to Ethiopia. The area was administered by Ethiopia when war broke out but according to legal treaties, Badme village falls on the Eritrean side of the border.

Tsirgay said he believed demarcation could be delayed unless communities along the border came to terms with the latest announcement.

“It is possible there will be trouble when they come to put the pillars in,” he added. “We cannot imagine the consequences.”

He also warned that the fallout from the legal decision could reverberate around the ruling coalition group – the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).

“It will damage the image of the TPLF [Tigray People's Liberation Front, dominant party in the EPRDF], and the capacity of the TPLF to hold the people may be restrained,” he said.

His deputy, Abadi Zemo, said the effects could be felt wider than just in the border region. The local population, he said, was “apprehensive”. “From our point of view it should not
happen,” he added.

He said Ethiopia would only accept the decision and push ahead with demarcation if it was "ordered" to do so by the UN Security Council.

“Even if the government is forced to accept [the decision], the people will not accept it,” he stressed. “Then one way or another there will be skirmishes.”