Peace process means Irob community could be rent in two with some ending up in Eritrea and others remaining in Ethiopia.

“This place is definitely Ethiopian,” said farmer Haise Woldu, 76, gesturing to a church with an ornate brick facade in Engal, set to the backdrop of a jagged mountain range.

His town, Engal, lies along the arid frontier between Ethiopia and Eritrea, whose exact border has been a subject of debate for over a century and the cause of a deadly war between the two nations which ended last week.

A breakneck peace process between the former foes over the past six weeks hinges on Ethiopia’s vow to finally abide by a 2002 United Nations ruling on the frontier, which states that Engal is in fact Eritrean.

This means Haisie’s minority ethnic Irob community, spread across the region, could be rent in two, with some ending up in Eritrea while others remain in Ethiopia.

“This decision will divide the population,” Daniel Hagos, a Catholic priest in Alitena, an Irob town 10km northeast of Engal, told AFP news agency.

“If brothers are divided, that will be a problem. I don’t think peace will come.”

Other leaders of the Irob community, which speaks the Kushitic Saho language, want peace but warn that changing the status quo could wreak havoc with their way of life.

They have warned that transferring land in the rugged Irob region to Eritrea would also force visitors to Ethiopia’s Irob areas to pass through Eritrea.

In the past 150 years, Eritrea has passed through the hands of the Ottomans, Egyptians, Italians, British and Ethiopians who annexed it in 1952 after a brief period of autonomy.

The tiny Red Sea nation – which comprised Ethiopia’s entire coastline – went on to fight a bloody independence war before successfully leaving after a 1993 referendum.

The resulting border was never properly defined, leading to a dispute that sparked clashes and escalated into an all-out war that claimed 80,000 lives between 1998 and the signature of a peace deal in 2000.

Continue reading this story at Al Jazeera
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