Eritrean–Ethiopian border conflict

Eritrean–Ethiopian border conflict
Part of the conflicts in the Horn of Africa
Eritrean–Ethiopian War Map 1998.png
Territory claimed by both sides of the conflict
Date6 May 1998 – 9 July 2018
(20 years, 2 months and 3 days)
EritreaEthiopia border

Peace treaty was signed

  • Eritrea gave up all of its claims in Ethiopia.
  • Ethiopia gave up all of its claims in Eritrea.
  • Diplomatic relations were re-established.
Badme ceded to Eritrea
Rebel allies

Rebel allies
(claimed by Eritrea)[1]

Supported by
(claimed by Eritrea)[2]
Commanders and leaders
Eritrea Isaias Afwerki
Eritrea Sebhat Ephrem
Mohamuda Ahmed Gass[3]
Ethiopia Negasso Gidada
Ethiopia Girma Wolde-Giorgis
Ethiopia Mulatu Teshome
Ethiopia Meles Zenawi
Ethiopia Hailemariam Desalegn
Ethiopia Abiy Ahmed
Ethiopia Samora Yunis[4]
Cornelius Osman[5] Ibrahim Harun
Eritrea 320,000 soldiers[6] (2008)
Unknown rebels
Ethiopia 350,000 soldiers[7]
Ethiopia 252,500 soldiers[8] (2002)
Ethiopia 200,000 soldiers[7] (2011)
Ethiopia 162,000 soldiers[9] (2018)
Unknown rebels
Casualties and losses
Eritrea 19,445–67,452 killed
30 Unknown pro-Eritrean rebels killed
Ethiopia 34,249–60,249 killed
10 killed

650,000 civilians displaced
Unknown civilians killed

70,741–98,965+ killed

The Eritrean–Ethiopian border conflict was a violent standoff and a proxy conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia, as part of the more general violence in the Horn of Africa. It consisted of a series of incidents along the then-disputed border; including the Eritrean–Ethiopian War of 1998–2000 and the subsequent Second Afar Insurgency. The border conflict was a continuation of the Eritrean–Ethiopian War of 1998–2000. It included multiple clashes with numerous casualties, including the Battle of Tsorona in 2016. Ethiopia stated in 2018 that it would cede Badme to Eritrea. This led to the Eritrea–Ethiopia summit on 9 July 2018, where an agreement was signed which demarcated the border and agreed a resumption of diplomatic relations.[10][11]


Colonisation and border conflict

Emperor Yohannes IV, who died in the Battle of Gallabat (9–10 March 1889).

In March 1870, an Italian shipping company become a claimant to the territory at the northern end of Assab Bay, a deserted but spacious bay about half-way between Annesley Bay to the north and Obock to the south.[12] The area —which had long been dominated by the Ottoman Empire and Egypt[13]—was not settled by the Italians until 1880.[14] In 1884, the Hewett Treaty was signed between the British Empire and Ethiopia, reigned by Emperor Yohannes IV (r. 1871–1889). The British Empire promised the highlands of modern Eritrea—and free access to the Massawan coast to Ethiopia in exchange for its help evacuating garrisons from the Sudan, in the then-ongoing Mahdist War.[15] In 1889, the disorder that followed the death of Yohannes IV, Italian General Oreste Baratieri occupied the highlands along the Eritrean coast and Italy proclaimed the establishment of a new colony of "Eritrea", (from the Latin name for the Red Sea), with its capital at Asmara in substitution foe Massawa.[16] On 2 May 1889, the peace and friendship Treaty of Wuchale was signed between Italy and Ethiopia, under which Italian Eritrea was officially recognised by Ethiopia as part of Italy.[17]

However, Article 17 of the treaty was disputed as the Italian version stated that Ethiopia was obliged to conduct all foreign affairs through Italian authorities, in effect making Ethiopia an Italian protectorate, while the Amharic version gave Ethiopia considerable autonomy, with the option of communicating with third powers through the Italians.[18][19][20] This resulted in the First Italo-Ethiopian War,[21] which the Ethiopians won, resulting in the Treaty of Addis Ababa in October 1896. Italy paid reparations of ten million Italian lira. Unusually, the Italians retained most, if not all, of the territories beyond the Mareb-Belessa and May/Muni rivers that they had taken; Emperor Menelik II (r. 1889–1913) gave away part of Tigray which had been treated as Ethiopian since time immemorial.[22][23] On 2 August 1928, Ethiopia and Italy signed a new friendship treaty.[24]

Ethiopia under Italian rule

Abyssinian soldiers in 1936 during the Second Italo-Ethiopian War.

On 22 November 1934, Italy claimed that three senior Ethiopian military-political commanders with a force of 1,000 Ethiopian militia arrived near Walwal and formally requested the garrison stationed there, comprising about 60 Somali soldiers, known as dubats, to withdraw.[25] The Somali NCO leading the garrison refused and alerted Captain Cimmaruta, commander of the garrison of Uarder, 20 kilometres (12 mi) away, what had happened.[26]

Italian artillery in Tembien, Ethiopia (1936).

Between 5 and 7 December 1934, for reasons which have never been clearly determined, a skirmish broke out between the garrison and the Ethiopian militia. According to the Italians, the Ethiopians attacked the Somalis with rifle and machine-gun fire.[27] According to the Ethiopians, the Italians attacked them, supported by two tanks and three aircraft.[28] According to historian Anthony Mockler 107 Ethiopians were killed.[29] By 3 October 1935, the Italian Army led by General Emilio De Bono launched an invasion of Ethiopia, without a declaration of war. This was the start of a new war called the Second Italo-Ethiopian War.[30] In May 1936, the Italian Army occupied the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.[31] The occupied country was annexed into the Italian East African colony together with the other Italian east African colonies.[32]

On 10 June 1940, Italy declared war on Britain and France;[33] in March 1941 Britain began a campaign to capture the Italian-held territory in the region.[34] By November, the British had occupied the whole Italian East African colony. However thousands of Italian soldiers began conducting a guerrilla war within their former colony[35] which lasted until October 1943.[36] After the end of WWII, Ethiopia regained her independence, and Eritrea was placed under Britain military administration.[37]