Muslims versus Christians
For more than 30 years, the bloody war between Ethiopia and now more or less independent Eritrea has taken its toll. This conflict pits predominantly Muslim Eritrea against principally Christian Ethiopia. Initially the Muslims fought, with a measure of success, to gain their independence from Ethiopia. Today, even after a form of independence, the violence continues.
Christianity in Ethiopia dates from the third or fourth century. Attacked in later centuries by a hostile Islam, Christianity initially flourished in the remote isolation of Ethiopia’s craggy, highlands. The Muslims of the north maintain that they are ethnically and religiously different from the Christian southerners.
Formerly an Italian colony, Eritrea came under British administration in 1941. In 1948 the fate of Eritrea was referred to the United Nations, which voted in 1950 for the federation of Eritrea and Ethiopia. The terms of the federation gave Eritrea considerable local autonomy. However, in November, 1962, the late Emperor Haile Selassie announced the end of the federation and absorbed Eritrea as Ethiopia’s 14th province, asserting full control over the region in spite of the autonomy provisions of the 1950 UN resolution. The United Nations stood helplessly by – and the fighting began.
In an attempt to depopulate the troublesome Eritrean region, the Christian government of Ethiopia launched a forced resettlement program in 1984 to relocate more than one million Eritrean Muslim peasants to Ethiopia’s central and southern regions. The expressed objective was to move the peasants from famine-prone and “overpopulated” Eritrea into more agriculturally productive areas. However, many thousands have died – and continue to die – in resettlement camps en route to their new locations.
Muslim Eritrea finally won independence from Christian Ethiopia in 1993, though at that time there was no decision on the final demarcation of the border between the two. This eventually led to more violence.
The conflict renewed, culminating in a border war in 1998. By 2000, tens of thousands are believed to have died, with untold property and other damage generated.