The European Union’s top diplomat in Ethiopia wants to use a favorite national pastime in both Eritrea and Ethiopia to help ease tensions over the two nations’ disputed border.
Ambassador Tim Clarke, who heads the European delegation to Addis Ababa, calls the race a “germ of an idea.” But he hopes the two nations with world-class runners could set aside their territorial differences and find common ground in sport. Ambassador Clarke says meetings will be held this week with other European diplomats in Addis Ababa and Asmara to work out details.
So far, he says, Olympic Gold Medalist Haile Gebreselassie has expressed support as have Ethiopian government officials.
“It’s only an idea that’s emerged in the last few days,” so we have not had any extensive discussions with anyone yet,” he said.
Tensions along the border have been growing for months. The United Nations Security Council recently passed a resolution that calls on both sides to reduce force levels along the border, and holds out the possibility of economic sanctions if neither side fails to comply.
Ambassador Clarke says the European Union has been considering ways to ease tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea to avert a repeat of their costly 1998-2000 war, and the race is only one idea being considered. Clarke says the run is a natural way to bridge difference between the two countries.
“It may come to nothing, you never know, but we just think there’s been this stalemate for so long that we just thought let’s try some new ideas,” he said.
Ambassador Clarke envisages a race where runners from Eritrea and from Ethiopia would meet at the border, and he says he is willing to compete. Similar sporting events were used to ease ethnic tensions in the Balkans conflicts a decade ago.