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Ethnic Relations. Traditionally, the Amhara have been the dominant ethnic group, with the Tigreans as secondary partners. The other ethnic groups have responded differently to that situation. Resistance to Amhara dominance resulted in various separatist movements, particularly in Eritrea and among the Oromo. Eritrea was culturally and politically part of highland Ethiopia since before Axum’s achievement of political dominance; Eritreans claim Axumite descendency as much as Ethiopians do. However, in 1889, Emperor Menelik II signed the Treaty of Wichale, leasing Eritrea to the Italians in exchange for weapons. Eritrea was an Italian colony until the end of World War II. In 1947, Italy signed the Treaty of Paris, renouncing all its colonial claims. The United Nations passed a resolution in 1950 establishing Eritrea as a federation under the Ethiopian crown. By 1961, Eritrean rebels had begun fighting for independence in the bush. In November 1962, Haile Selassie abolished the federation and sent his army to quell any resistance, forcefully subordinating Eritrea against the will of its people.

African leaders passed the Cairo Resolution in 1964, which recognized the old colonial borders as the basis for nation-statehood. Under this treaty, Eritrea should have gained independence, but because of Haile Selassie’s international political savvy and military strength, Ethiopia retained control. The Eritrean rebels fought the emperor until his deposition in 1974. When the Derge government was armed by the Soviets, the Eritreans still refused to accept external subjugation. The Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) fought side by side with the EPRDF and ousted the Derge in 1991, at which time Eritrea became an independent nation-state. Political confrontation has continued, and Ethiopia and Eritrea fought from June 1998 to June 2000 over the border between the two countries, with each accusing the other of infringing on its sovereignty.

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