In April 1999, Abdelaziz Bouteflika became Algerian president winning the first post-1992 civil war elections which were prompted by the cancellation of polls the Islamic Salvation Front, FIS, was poised to win.
The then 62-year-old Bouteflika clearly had enough work on his hands by way of rebuilding and reconciling the nation.
The same year, the rotational presidency of then Organization of African Union, OAU, had reached Algiers’ turn. On July 12, 1999 Bouteflika became OAU president.
He was quickly called to task in the wake of what became one of Africa’s deadliest and costliest border wars. The Ethiopia – Eritrea standoff.
The war footing continued for two decades till current Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed actualized a peace agreement reached in 18 years back with the instrumentality of the former Algerian leader.
Th European Union, EU, as recently as 2017 had expressed concerns over the situation describing it in an April 2017 statement as a feud that continued to negatively impact regional stability.
Ethiopia’s May 2000 offensive and June 2000 ceasefire
When Ethiopia launched an offensive in May 2000 on Eritrean positions at a number of points along their disputed fronts, intense fighting broke out forcing mediators to immediately convene in Algiers.
Foreign ministers of the two nations entered marathon negotiations, led by Ahmed Ouyahia (Special envoy of Bouteflika) and Anthony Lake (representative of the U.S. president), with both nations trading accusations.
Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika made a trip to the two capitals – Asmara and Addis Ababa – moves that helped lay the groundwork for those talks. An envoy of the European Union also contributed.
Then OAU head and Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika (L) walks with President Isayas Afewerki of Eritrea at Asmara airport May 25, 2000.
Those talks culminated in the signing, on 18 July 2000, of the Agreement on Cessation of Hostilities between Ethiopia and Eritrea by the Foreign Ministers of both countries, under the auspices of Bouteflika, in his capacity as the Chairman of OAU.
The talks were conducted with the assistance of the Personal Envoy of the Presidency of the European Union, Rino Serri, and the representative of the President of the United States, Anthony Lake.
The Agreement committed the parties to an immediate cessation of hostilities promising to work within the OAU Framework Agreement and its Modalities. They also called upon the U.N. in cooperation with OAU, to establish a peacekeeping operation to police the deal implementation.
Then Foreign Minister of Ethiopia Seyoum Mesfin (L) and Eritrea Haile Waldensaye ® join in a three-way handshake with Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika © after signing a ceasefire accord in the Algerian capital June 18, 2000.
But before the signing of the July agreement the United Nations Security Council undertook a series of actions to maintain the peace between both countries. A key component was the establishment of the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea, UNMEE, under resolution 1312 on June 31, 2000.
Bouteflika was again in the mix when it came to the final comprehensive peace settlement in December 2000. And for good reason, it was being signed in Algiers with all those who matter present.
A U.N. peacekeeping website record said of his involvement: “The talks, facilitated by President Bouteflika of Algeria, resulted in the signing on 12 December 2000 in Algiers of a comprehensive Peace Agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea.”
The Algiers peace agreement overseen by President Abdul Aziz Bouteflika was signed by the leaders of Eritrea, President Isaias Afwerki, and Ethiopia, late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, in Algeria on 12 December 2000.
The EU signed as a witness alongside the host country, the United States of America, the United Nations and the African Union (then known as the Organisation of African Unity.)
Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika (L) and Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi smile as they pose for a photograph at the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) summit in Algiers March 21, 2007.
It continued: “Speaking at the signing ceremony, the Secretary-General welcomed the Agreement as a “victory for the voice of reason, for the power of diplomacy and for the recognition that neither one of those countries — nor the continent as a whole — can afford another decade, another year, another day of conflict.
“The United Nations and the international community are determined to work closely with the parties to ensure the implementation of both the 18 July Agreement and the one signed today, so that lasting peace can be achieved and that reconstruction can begin,” the Secretary-General said.”
Under the agreement, either side were to “permanently terminate military hostilities between themselves” and to refrain from the threat or use of force against each other. It also called for the establishment of a neutral Boundary Commission to “delimit and demarcate the colonial treaty border.”
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika ® applauds as Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi © shakes hands with United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (L) after the signing of peace agreements with Eritrean President Isayas Afewerki (not shown) December 12, 2000 in Algiers.
The Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC) was subsequently formed and on April 13, 2002, communicated its decision to officially demarcate the border between the State of Eritrea and the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.
Despite the signing of the deal, very little was done by way of implementation. Ethiopia stressed that it had reservations over the EEBC decision whiles Eritrea said it won’t settle for anything less than full implementation.
Under PM Meles Zenawi and his immediate predecessor, Hailemariam Desalegn, there was only talk of accepting the ruling and making peace with Eritrea but the talks never translated to reality.
18 years on, peace was realized when PM Abiy Ahmed eventually flew to Asmara and signed a peace deal with President Afwerki. The deal normalized all diplomatic and people-to-people ties between the two neighbours.
Ethiopia PM Abiy Ahmed shares a light moment with Eritrean president Isaias Afwerki on one of his trips to Asmara in 2018.
Borders have been reopened, roads linking the two nations are being rehabilitated, flights has resumed between the respective capitals, telephone lines restored. The borders have also been demilitarized with the final plank being the handing back of the town of Badme to Eritrea, according to most analysts.
Shaban Abdur Rahman Alfa