Places in World Most Likely to Secede Eritrea

About Eritrea a place in the world likely to secede from Ethiopia, size, population, and history of conflict.

MOST LIKELY TO SECEDE

ERITREA

Size: 45,000 sq. mi. (117,600 sq. km.).

Population: 4 million.

Ethiopia's northern province of Eritrea is made up of a mosaic of peoples, half of whom are Muslim and the majority of the rest of whom are Coptic Christians. Mingled together in this Red Sea coastal country are the Semitic Tigreans, nomadic Arabian tribes of Cushitic stock, and the Negroid Shankellas of various tribal and linguistic groups on the Sudanese borderlands. What makes this poor agricultural province's move for independence so critical is that, without Eritrea and its two seaport cities of Massawa and Assab, Ethiopia is a completely landlocked nation.

International involvement in Eritrea's political future dates back to the 50 years prior to W.W. II, when the province became an Italian colony as a consequence of Italy's 19th-century colonial adventures which resulted in the establishment of the Italian East African Empire. Ethiopian claims to the area were mostly nominal and indefinite before 1890. Under Italian rule, the colony's economy developed much more rapidly than Ethiopia's. However, following the 1941 Italian collapse in Africa, Great Britain administered the area until 1952, when the U.N. federated it as an autonomous unit within Ethiopia. Ten years later came the end of the federation and the controversial annexation of Eritrea.

In 1962, amid accusations of Ethiopian bribery and intrigue, the Eritrean Legislative Assembly voted itself out of existence. The country, no longer an autonomous unit, was annexed immediately as a province by Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie. Resistance to this annexation flared from the outset, and an increasing scale of guerrilla warfare mounted within the province. Ethiopia declared martial law in Eritrea in 1971, and the Ethiopian army occupied the area. Though dissension in the Eritrean Liberation Front organization, originally founded in the late 1950s in Cairo, led to a power struggle in 1972, a reunited front was achieved in 1975. The Marxist ELF numbers about 20,000 Eritreans; it is the largest of several nationalistic groups. Led by Ahmed Mohammed Nasser, the ELF is supported by most Arab states in its struggle for independence. At first, the Soviet union patronized the ELF, supplying it with arms and Cuban advisers. However, as was the case with the Somalians, the Eritreans broke with the U.S.S.R. and sent their Cuban allies home when the Soviets opened diplomatic relations and gave massive military aid to their enemy, the Ethiopian military regime of Col. Haile Mariam.

Proposals of concessions and statehood for major ethnic groups were published by Ethiopia's military government in 1976, but its actual policy of repression armed with Soviet weapons soon escalated into bloody civil war. While overt rebellion may have subsided, an end to Eritrean resistance is not in sight. Conflict will probably continue as a war of attrition, expensively draining Ethiopian (and Soviet) resources--unless and until the situation is defused by restoration of considerable autonomy to Eritrea.

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