Eritrea calls off referendum and believes diplomat would lead Ethiopia to return territory

As a war escalates between Ethiopia and Eritrea, the visiting prime minister of Ethiopia is throwing himself on the front lines. On Monday, Abiy Ahmed told journalists that he would be willing to hand over territory seized by Eritrea and to establish an international monitoring body to monitor the border. In the press conference, the Ethiopian leader also raised the possibility of taking Eritrea’s capital, Asmara, back. There had been no foreign influence on the military conflict, Abiy said, without elaborating on how exactly Eritrea’s military might have been influenced. However, the prospect of a diplomatic stalemate has heightened fears that Ethiopia could turn to military strikes to force its way back into Asmara.

Prime Minister Abiy’s diplomatic outreach is part of a bold initiative to reboot relations with Eritrea that has seen the countries engage in first-ever diplomatic talks.

Ethiopia claimed sovereignty over the border region of Assab, Eritrea, in 1998, during the war of independence that had led to Eritrea’s independence from Ethiopia. A UN-sanctioned 1998–2000 border war saw Ethiopia lose a fifth of its territory. After being largely absent from the diplomatic scene since then, Ethiopia has been wooing the Eritrean government with courting gestures like the invitation of Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki to visit Addis Ababa in May. The new willingness to engage with Asmara will be especially welcomed by western nations that were accused of siding with Ethiopia over Eritrea by approving a UN arms embargo in 2015.

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