Keeping the peace and resolving the militarised territorial dispute between Eritrea and Ethiopia


The United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea helped to prevent renewed interstate conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia while the militarised territorial dispute that sparked the 1998-2000 war was eventually resolved by the work of the Independent Boundary Commission of the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993, and although the 1000km border between them was already defined by colonial era treaties, it was yet to be demarcated. The governments in both countries were former wartime allies, but relations soon deteriorated and, in late 1997, several armed clashes occurred on the border.1 A joint Border Commission was established to investigate the dispute, however only one meeting was held before relations soured further. In May 1998, Eritrean forces occupied the disputed territory, sparking an armed conflict.2 The Organisation of African Unity (OAU) acted quickly to try and bring the belligerents to the negotiating table, presenting an initiative developed by the Rwandan and US governments. The Government of Eritrea rejected the proposal, and, in response, the Ethiopian military launched a large offensive against the Eritrean positions in February 1999. In a change of tack, the Eritrean leadership accepted the OAU proposals, only for their Ethiopian counterparts to refuse to sign an article on technical arrangements in the proposal.3 The fighting continued, with Ethiopian forces launching additional large offensives in early 2000.

Indirect talks resumed in April 2000 with little progress, however once Ethiopian troops had struck deep into Eritrean territory, the belligerent parties gathered for talks in Algiers, Algeria. The negotiations culminated in June 2000 with the Agreement on Cessation of Hostilities, which affirmed the disputed territory to be under Ethiopian administration, stipulated the withdrawal of Eritrean troops out of a 25km demilitarised zone, and called for a UN peacekeeping force to assist with implementation.4 In September 2000, the first of 4,200 peacekeepers of the United Nations Mission in Eritrea and Ethiopia (UNMEE) arrived to supervise withdrawals and monitor the demilitarised zone.5 With peacekeepers in place and their respective armies withdrawn from the demilitarised zone, the leaders of Eritrea and Ethiopia met in Algiers to continue the peace talks.6 Building on previous proposals, the parties signed a formal peace treaty witnessed by the UN Secretary-General and representatives from the OAU, EU, and the governments of Algeria and the USA in December 2000, ending the armed conflict and placing responsibility for resolving the dispute in the hands of neutral commissions, including an Independent Boundary Commission established for the purpose at the Permanent Court of Arbitration.7 The UN Cartographic Section supported the work of the Commission, which issued its verdicts in April 2002.8 The brutal war cost the lives of almost 100,000 people, however consistent efforts to facilitate dialogue and the deployment of UNMEE helped to bring the fighting to an end.


2 Terrence Lyons. “The Ethiopia-Eritrea Conflict and the Search for Peace in the Horn of Africa.” Review of African Political Economy, Vol. 36, No. 120. (2009) p.168

3 International Crisis Group. “Ethiopia and Eritrea: Preventing War.” Africa Report, No. 101. (2005) p.2

4 Agreement on Cessation of Hostilities between the Government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and the Government of the State of Eritrea, 2000. Available at: (Accessed 01/12/2020)

5 UNMEE. Background. (UN, 2020) Available at: (Accessed 01/12/2020)

6 International Crisis Group. “Ethiopia and Eritrea.” p.3

7 Agreement between the Government of the State of Eritrea and the Government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, 2000. Available at: (Accessed 01/12/2020)

8 Permanent Court of Arbitration. Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission. (PCA, 2022) Available at: (Accessed 17/01/2022)

Start Year


End Year




UN Regional Group


Type of Conflict

Risk of an interstate conflict

Type of Initiative

Peacekeeping mission, Resolution of a militarised territorial dispute

Main Implementing Organisation(s)

The UN and the Permanent Court of Arbitration




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