In Zalambesa, a town on a long-disputed border with Eritrean, a few town elders say they could have solved the dispute that lead to a two-year war and the loss of an estimated 70,000 lives.
Bahta Hagos told VOA “We weren’t given the chance to solve the problem but we could have reached a solution. We Ethiopians and Eritreans are brothers. We don’t have any point that can create disagreement between us. We all know about the land and we could solve the border issue.”
Similarly, several town elders agreed that dispute was a local issue which they would like to solve through arbitration with their Eritrean counterparts across the border.
The mandate for the U.N. peacekeepers who monitored the border for seven years and six months expired July 31. They arrived at the request of both nations to prevent the restart of war and now have about 130 civilian staff in Ethiopia and 250 in Eritrea.
All military observers must be gone from Ethiopia in two weeks. Personnel in Humera, Burie and Badme have already left two weeks ago. Those in Sheraro, Shire, Adi Abun, Adigrat, Mekelle and Addis Ababa are packing now and have about a month to leave Ethiopia.
VOA’s Girmay Gebru interviewed Bahta and others in the town the day following the expiration of the U.N. mandate.
Among those interviewed, Balamberas Reda Adhanom, expressed fear that war might break out after the peacekeepers have gone. “We are living in between two fires, so we are thinking that there will be something (war) most likely,” he said.
Woizero Mana Gebrehiwot disagrees. She said the people don’t depend on UNMEE. “We are confident enough on our government and defense, so we are not afraid of any one,” she said.
Others say the economy is of greater concern. Yimesel Haftu, a businessman, said people don’t fear war. “We are worried of dieing from hunger not by war. Business is not running properly so we don’t have enough food to eat,” he said.
A priest and the chairman of the town’s local administration, Bizen Neway, thinks the situation in the town is all the same even after UNMEE’s withdrawal.