Martin Plaut

Journalist specialising in the Horn of Africa and Southern Africa

Africa, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Horn of Africa

When the Jimmy Carter tried to end Ethiopia – Eritrea war

jimmy-carterIt is easy to forget that the United States tried to find a peaceful end to the Eritrean war of liberation.

Peace talks in September 1989 led by President Carter might have done it, but in the end were unsuccessful.

It was not until 1991, and the London talks brokered by Herman Cohen that an end to the fighting was finally achieved.

The deal – described by Ethiopians as ‘Cohen’s coup‘ led to a peace and independence for Eritrea.

This article from the New York Times is worth reading to recall the earlier Carter peace talks.


Carter to Bring Together Ethiopian Foes

Published: August 18, 1989

ATLANTA, Aug. 17— The Ethiopian Government and rebels fighting against it for nearly three decades have agreed to meet here with former President Jimmy Carter for peace talks next month, Mr. Carter said today.

Mr. Carter said representatives of the Ethiopian Parliament and the rebel group, the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front, had agreed to send high-ranking, four-member teams to Atlanta for negotiations starting Sept. 7.

More than 500,000 people are believed to have died in Ethiopia since 1974 as a result of war and famine. The talks, to be held in Atlanta at the Carter Presidential Center, would be the first attempt to negotiate an end to the Ethiopian war since a series of abortive talks ended in 1985. ‘Concern for Human Rights’

The agreement on talks is to be announced on Friday in Addis Ababa by the Ethiopian Government, said Dayle E. Powell of the Carter Center. Hagos Ghebrehiwet, a member of the Eritrean Central Committee and representative of the E.P.L.F. to the United States and Canada, confirmed the agreement for talks today in a telephone interview from Washington.

”From our meetings with President Carter – and there were a series of meetings in Atlanta and in Khartoum – we were convinced of his concern for peace and human rights,” Mr. Ghebrehiwet said. ”That is why we decided to continue with his initiative.”

The Eritreans have been fighting for independence from Ethiopia since 1961. The Eritreans claim that their region, which existed as an independent nation prior to 19th-century colonization by Italy, was improperly federated with Ethiopia as a result of a 1950 United Nations resolution. Tigre Conflict Won’t Be Included

In addition to fighting Eritreans, Ethiopia also has been at war for 14 years with the insurgents in Tigre, another province near Eritrea. Mr. Carter said the conflict in Tigre would not be a subject for the Atlanta talks but could be addressed in later, separate negotiations.

Mr. Carter said he would be a mediator or observer at the talks. The choice of Atlanta as a site for the talks was made by the two sides in the war. ”I would have been glad to go to Geneva or London or Cairo,” Mr. Carter said in a telephone interview. ”Atlanta was one of the common places that both sides agreed to as a neutral site. It was not any insistence on my part.”

The United Nations has ruled that the Ethiopian conflict is a civil war. As such, the world organization has said it is forbidden by its charter from trying to intervene.

”There are so many of these conflicts which are outside the purview of the Organization of African Unity or the United Nations and where official negotiations by the United States would be contrary to our policy,” Mr. Carter said. ”If the United States has established diplomatic relations with a government, it cannot have formal contact with revolutionary movements in those countries.” Previous Talks Failed

In 1978, a series of peace talks between Ethiopia and the E.P.L.F. was held in East Germany without success. Between 1982 and 1985, a series of meetings was held in various European capitals, also without result.

Mr. Carter said that the failed East Germany talks began with preconditions and that no third-party observers attended, both facts having diminished their chances for success. He said the fact that the Atlanta talks have been announced publicly will force both sides ”to put forth their most attractive and reasonable proposals and demonstrate a degree of good faith to prevent failure.”

Mr. Carter arranged the talks in a series of three trips to Africa between April and July during which he spoke with President Mengistu Haile Mariam of Ethiopia and the General Secretary of the Eritrean rebels, Isaias Afwerki, Ms. Powell said. She added that they agreed to the talks in principle during his most recent trip.

The Carter Center was established as a public policy and international study agency in 1982. Mr. Carter has said he hoped to use the center as a springboard for resolution of worldwide conflicts.

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