Eritrea and Ethiopia are neighbors in the Horn of Africa. After Italy’s colonization of Eritrea ended in 1952, Ethiopia annexed it for 30 years. A referendum in April 1993 voted for her independence.
The borders were not clearly defined and have been the cause of frosty relations between the two nations. Consequently, a war broke out from May 1998 to June 2000, over a border dispute.
Below are 12 things you probably didn’t know about the war of 1998-2000.
Cause of dispute
The town of Badme in the Tigray region, which had a population of 800 people led to the war. On May 6, 1998, Eritrean soldiers crossed into the region which was under Ethiopian administration. The soldiers clashed with the Ethiopian police and Tigrayan militia. Eritrea sent in platoons with more tanks and heavy artillery. On May 13, 1998, Ethiopia mobilized forces for a full assault on Eritrea.
The border war claimed the lives of 19,000 Eritrean soldiers. It was a massive loss to the nation. At least 100,000 civilians and soldiers from both nations were killed.
General breaks into tears
In a meeting that included top members of the military, General Tsadkan of the Ethiopian Army broke into tears. He could not stand the failures and ineptness through which his nation fought against Eritrea, leading to massive human and weaponry losses. More than two thirds of Ethiopian military machinery was destroyed.
Attack on airport
The Asmara International Airport was shelled by Ethiopia fighter jets as they bombed a military airstrip nearby. Two bombs landed on the airport’s access road, damaging it and a building inside the military airstrip.
Pilot captured twice
After Ethiopian MiG-21 fighter jets attacked Asmara in 1998, Col. Bezabeh Petros, a pilot was captured after the jets were shot down by Eritrean military. In 2012, Col Bezabeh was still held as a Prisoner of War by the Eritrean regime. He had earlier been captured in 1984 after Eritrean soldiers shot down a MiG-21 he was flying, and later released in 1991. He was one of the most experienced and proficient air-force pilots in the Ethiopian military.
As the war raged on, a severe drought hit Ethiopia. The government was accused of spending millions of dollars on the war as her population died of starvation. About 8.1 Ethiopians were faced with starvation and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) requested the Eritrean government to use the Port of Assab to deliver food aid to the Northern and Southern parts of Ethiopia that were hit hard by the famine.
Shortage of pilots
In the early stages of the war, Ethiopian military had a shortage of pilots to lead her air assault on Eritrea. This had been caused by the fall of Mengistu Haile Mariam-led Derga regime in 1991. The new government with the support of Eritrea had imprisoned all officers and pilots to the rank of a major.
In June 1998, the government started a campaign against Ethiopians of Eritrean origin. At least 75,000 were forcibly stripped of all proof of their Ethiopian citizenship and deported to Eritrea. In Asmara, the Eritrean government forcibly expelled about 70,000 Ethiopians.
Human Rights Violations
In Ethiopia, the government targeted Ethiopians of Eritrean origin in business and political organizations. It revoked business permits and froze bank accounts and assets of thousands of Ethiopians of Eritrean origin.
The two nations were accused of mobilizing boys under 18 years to fight in the war. Ethiopia forcibly recruited teenage boys between 15-17 years into the military when the war broke out in May 1998. Most of them came from the Oromo and Somali minority communities. In April 1999, Ethiopia released a list of Eritrean soldiers captured as Prisoners of War. Most were under 18 years, the youngest being 15 years old.