After a long and complex diplomatic spat, Ethiopia’s leader agreed last week to bury his enemy’s body – but not without a protest from his country’s foreign ministry.
When Eritrea’s president Assefa finally passed away last week, his immediate predecessor, Marxist-Leninist Alemu Tsegaye, promised to bury him in Eritrea. This followed a brief visit by Assefa’s brother, Azegefashe Addai, and his nephew, Ahmed Soheb.
The government is closely allied with Eritrea’s former dictatorship, dictator Isaias Afewerki, who instituted the country’s independence after the border battle in 1998 and was forced to resign later. The two countries still technically consider each other “nations”.
Security was tightened at the funeral, in the northwestern town of Mekele, and thick security was guarding the home of the coffin in Mekele. Troops from both countries had been camped out in Mekele over the past week.
Thousands of Eritreans were celebrating in front of the home of the corpse on Friday, just 10 hours after the ceremony.
Foreign Minister Workneh Gebeyehu of Ethiopia condemned the celebrations in a statement that called the events a violation of national sovereignty.
“We have expressed our objection to such direct violation of the undertakings given to us and have urged the two governments to refrain from these actions,” Workneh wrote.
The Eritrean government denounced the Ethiopian statement, saying that Ethiopia’s foreign ministry had “entered a phenomenon of speculative and reckless diplomacy,” which violated an earlier agreement that had offered immunity to both countries to people gathered in Mekele for a meeting.
In his statement, Workneh acknowledged this agreement, but said that the foreign ministry had no choice but to voice its objections.
State media in Eritrea and Ethiopia have clashed in recent weeks over what they claim to be anti-immigrant propaganda in their respective media.
Eritrea accused Ethiopia of having stoked anti-immigrant sentiment in its media, including their own, after it asked the African Union and the AU’s Economic Commission for Africa to investigate reports that the Ethiopians had killed a number of migrants, saying that the government had misrepresented the truth.
There have been repeated accusations from Eritrea and Ethiopia of mercenary army soldiers from the two countries helping each other in the military, recruiting young Ethiopians to join the Eritrean and Ethiopian armies.