Eritrea / Ethiopia

After fighting a liberation war against Ethiopia for thirty years, Eritrea achieved full independence in 1991. Between 1998 and 2000, a border war erupted between the two countries, resulting in thousands of casualties, devastating economic and social effects for two of the already poorest countries in the world, and in the end minor border changes.

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«This is God’s forsaken scenery, consisting of rugged mountains, rocks and dry vegetation, where a vast number of young soldiers have died in the last twelve months. It has become a drawn out trench war, not seen in the world since World War I.

The Eritrean trenches are a horrible sight as you get near them – a hand, a few fingers, half of a foot, some military boots, and in several places faces with empty eyes staring from dead Ethiopian soldiers who were buried inside and outside the walls of the long trenches that cuts like deep wounds through the landscape. The dead Ethiopians were buried here after the Eritrean bulldozers reinforced the defence line following the last attack.

Eritrea has mobilised 150,000 soldiers out of a population of 3.5 million, while the Ethiopian army managed to recruit over 280,000 soldiers out of their population of 40 million people; this is a meaningless border war nobody in the world can comprehend.

When I return back to Eritrea’s capital Asmara, it happens to be the day the nation is celebrating ‘the day of the martyrs’, a memory of all those who died during the 30 year long liberation war against Ethiopia. A woman outside a church, called Ende Mariam, tells me later that evening that she lost her four oldest sons during the liberation war and that a few days earlier she sent her four remaining sons to the front line to defend Eritrea again against the ‘Ethiopian invaders’»

Peter Strandberg | Eritrean-Ethiopian Border | 1999