Ethiopia’s leader, Mengistu Haile Mariam, and the Somali President, Mohammed Siyad Barre, first held a cautious dialogue in Djibouti in 1986 in an effort to end the virtual state of war, which had existed for nearly a decade. Somalia and Ethiopia agreed at the time to form a ministerial committee to search for a peaceful solution
This is a digitized version of an article titled “Somalia and Ethiopia Resume Relations” from The New York Times’s print archive on April 5, 1988, before the start of online publication in 1996. To preserve these articles as they originally appeared, The NY Times does not alter, edit or update them.
Somalia and Ethiopia Resume Relations
By Sheila Rule, Special To the New York Times April 5, 1988
Somalia and Ethiopia have agreed to restore diplomatic relations, 11 years after their border dispute over the Ogaden region erupted into war, the Ethiopian press agency reported today.
The two countries, whose strained relations had heightened tensions in the Horn of Africa, said they would withdraw security forces from their border, end hostile propaganda against each other, and exchange prisoners of war, according to the Ethiopian press agency, which is run by the Government.
Some Western diplomats suggested that the agreement could represent a breakthrough in relations, but it was not immediately clear what approach the countries took on the border issue. Some reports suggested that the issue would be considered later. Joint Statement
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The agreement was announced in a joint statement after Foreign Minister Berhanu Bahiy of Ethiopia and Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Mohamud Farah of Somalia held peace talks over the weekend in Mogadishu, the Somali capital. Ethiopia’s leader, Mengistu Haile Mariam, and the Somali President, Mohammed Siyad Barre, first held a cautious dialogue in Djibouti in 1986 in an effort to end the virtual state of war, which had existed for nearly a decade. They agreed at the time to form a ministerial committee to search for a peaceful solution.
Several committee meetings ended inconclusively because of disagreements over how to approach the border dispute. When the meetings began a year ago, Ethiopia said progress could be made if Somalia recognized the existing frontiers, which were guaranteed during colonial times and confirmed by the United Nations and the Organization of African Unity.
Ethiopia initially suggested that the two sides discuss only the border issue. But Somalia’s position was that the two countries should agree on steps to disengage their forces, resume diplomatic relations and exchange prisoners before moving on to the more difficult question of setting the frontier. Ethiopia later indicated that it had accepted the Somali proposal. Expanse of Scrubland
Since it gained independence in 1960, Somalia had laid claim to the Ogaden, an arid expanse of scrubland in eastern Ethiopia that is populated mainly by ethnic Somali nomads. Somalia had long maintained that the people of the Ogaden should have the right to decide between Ethiopian control or annexation by Somalia. The two countries went to war in 1977, leading to a realignment of influence in the Horn of Africa between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Somali forces backed by Moscow invaded the disputed territory. A year later, after a sharp advance, the Somalis were beaten back by the Ethiopians, who were supported by Cuban troops and freshly armed by the Soviet Union, which had switched sides after Washington refused to resupply and re-equip Ethiopia. The Government in Addis Ababa had been a strong ally of the West before Emperor Haile Selassie was overthrown in 1974 by left-leaning military officers. After Moscow switched sides and backed Ethiopia, Somalia broke with the Russians and turned to Washington as its main ally.
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