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20-Year Border War Ends, But Will It Help Christians?

07/10/2018 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that Ethiopia and Eritrea have declared an end to their 20-year long border war. The dispute began in 1998, five years after Eritrea declared its independence from Ethiopia. The war raged for several years, before a UN-backed treaty was signed in 2002. Despite this agreement, the two neighboring countries continued to arm troops along their borders, and Ethiopia held towns that were granted to Eritrea. They also had no diplomatic relations or trade during this period.

This began to change in April of this year when Ethiopia’s new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, declared that he wanted to end the conflict. Over the past several months, he has worked toward that goal, culminating in the agreement signed yesterday. This agreement stated that telecommunications would be reopened between the two countries, flights would be allowed again, embassies would be reopened in their respective capitals, and ports would be open to the countries. This agreement will hopefully bring some stability to a very chaotic East Africa.

ICC is concerned, however, that these benefits will not reach the long persecuted Christians of Eritrea. For years, Eritrea has been known to religious freedom advocates as the “North Korea of Africa.” This title is well deserved. Due to their strong central and socialistic government, Eritrea represses all religious freedom in the country. In 2002, they enacted laws that allowed for only four legal religions: Roman Catholic, Eritrean Orthodox, Lutheran, and Sunni Islam. However, these four religions come with significant stipulations.

To join any of these religions, one must make four pledges: 1) Their loyalty is to the government, not the Church, family, or God, 2) They will never be “born again,” 3) They will not carry a Bible outside of their home or Church, and 4) They will turn in any evangelists or missionaries that they encounter. These pledges have forced many Christians to worship in underground churches or flee the country.

Furthermore, the government still holds many Christians in captivity. The rightful patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, Abune Antonios, has been under house arrest since 2007 when the government arrested him for defying governmental control over the church. Thousands of others are still being held in some of the worst conditions in the world. Their prisons are often metal shipping containers placed in the middle of the desert. They pack as many as eight people into these tiny containers, which have no electricity or plumbing. The metal walls of the cells increase the temperature fluctuations of the desert from extremely hot to freezing cold. These religious freedom issues have yet to be addressed and leave serious concerns.

ICC’s Regional Manager, Nathan Johnson, stated, “We cannot yet rejoice with the rest of the world over this peace agreement. Though it brings hope for many, thousands of others are still suffering under the repressive regime of the Eritrean dictatorship. We hope that this opening of borders will allow Christians to find safety and that Ethiopia is able to help change one of the harshest persecutors in the world.”

For interviews with Nathan Johnson, Regional Manager, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: [email protected]