Eritrea could claim millions for 'war damage'
Eritrea is likely to claim more than $500-million from Ethiopia for damage done during their border war, a lawyer representing the small Red Sea state said.
That would be equivalent almost to Eritrea's national wealth as measured by annual gross domestic product, estimated by the Economist Intelligence Unit at about 9.0 billion nakfa ($600-million) in 2002.
"I would be surprised if Eritrea's claims did not get well over $500-million," Lea Brilmayer, an American lawyer advising the government, told Reuters on Monday.
The Horn of Africa countries established an Eritrea-Ethiopia Claims Commission under the December 2000 Algiers peace accord that ended a 1998-2000 war which killed at least 70 000 people.
Ethiopia is also preparing claims for damages against Eritrea at the Hague-based commission. The Commission has yet to receive all the financial claims from either side and is not expected to rule on how much should be paid for some years.
Brilmayer, whose team of 15 to 20 people has been working on the claims since December 2000, said Eritrea's evidence included satellite photography and thousands of technical photos.
"We are always looking for objective evidence to back up what the witnesses say, because otherwise it just turns into a lying contest," she said.
"Right now we have substantive judgments which means (for example) that Ethiopia was found responsible for blowing up the Senafe Hospital, but how much is that worth? Well that still has to be litigated," she said of fighting in a border town.
Eritrea's single biggest claim was for damages done to the tens of thousands of people with dual Eritrea-Ethiopian nationality expelled from Ethiopia during the war, she said.
"Some of these people were worth tens of millions of dollars. They lost everything," she said, referring to wealthy entrepreneurs.
Brilmayer said there were concerns as to whether Ethiopia would accept the commission ruling when it came.
"Yes, there is a lot of reason to think that Ethiopia may try to get out of the procedure," she said. "They have shown the capacity to do that with the Boundary Commission," she added.
The more well-known, independent Boundary Commission was also set up under the Algiers agreement to decide where the border between the countries lies. But it has floundered amid Ethiopian insistence on dialogue before implementation of the commission's April 2002 "final and binding" ruling.
Both countries agreed as part of the peace deal that they would accept the border ruling. When it came, the ruling awarded the flashpoint town of Badme to Eritrea.
In Addis Ababa, Ethiopian Information Minister Bereket Simon said Ethiopia would adhere to the claims commission's procedure.
"Ethiopia is not out of the process and will not be out of the process," he said. "The problem with this issue is to keep politics out of it."
He said any further comment would have to come from US-based lawyers preparing Ethiopia's claim.