Early this week, the Permanent Representative of Eritrea to the United Nations wrote to the President of the Security Council to denounce the draft resolution tabled in the Security Council last week. The resolution called for sanctions on Eritrea following its open support of extremist and terrorist opposition to the TFG in Somalia and its wider activities in the region of the Horn of Africa. This resolution was referred to experts for further analysis and has yet to come up for a vote.
Ambassador Araya’s letter took the expected line of suggesting that Eritrea’s interest and involvement in Somalia had been misunderstood. He claimed Eritrea did not favor or support a military solution in Somalia, did not support one party as opposed to another, nor work with one against others. Eritrea holds that any solution needs participation of all key Somali actors in an inclusive political process. The Ambassador also claimed that Eritrea has been attempting to organize such a process by engaging with various countries in the region to encourage an inclusive process. All this might sound persuasive but the Ambassador’s letter makes no mention of a number of undeniable facts:
1. Eritrea has consistently and publicly denied the legality of the TFG in Mogadishu, thus denying the inclusivity of a majority of Somali political figures, and calling for its overthrow;
2.It has repeatedly backed minority extremist elements, starting with the ICU in 2006, and among these have been Sheikh Hassan Dahir ‘Aweys’, who was provided with a base in Eritrea for over two years, and then in May 2009 was given sufficient quantities of arms to attempt the overthrow of the internationally recognized Somali Government in conjunction with the terrorist organization, Al-Shabaab;
3. It has consistently supported Hizbul Islam, the organization of Sheikh ‘Aweys’, and encouraged his connections with Al-Shabaab, and both, according to UN Monitoring Reports, have been the recipient of Eritrean arms;
4. Fighters from both Hizbul Islam and Al-Shabaab, who have been captured or who have defected in Mogadishu, have made no secret of the fact they have received training in Eritrea;
5. Members of the terrorist Ogaden National Liberation Front that has been operating in Ethiopia’s Somali Regional State have confirmed Eritrean support and training;
6. Last year, Eritrean troops crossed the border into Djibouti, and they remain there despite UN Resolutions and international calls for their withdrawal;
7. There are currently plausible allegations today that Eritrea has been supplying arms to rebels in Yemen, as it has been doing for several anti-government elements involved in armed struggle in Ethiopia, and for rebels in several other parts of the region.
Eritrea, in fact, far from assisting in trying to resolve the problems in Somalia has been encouraging the differences between political organizations there and actively supporting two of the most extreme factions, both identified as terrorist organizations. It has consistently, since its invasion of Ethiopia in 1998, worked for the destabilization of the Horn of Africa. It has never responded positively to any reasonable approaches as Ethiopia knows only too well with all its efforts to open dialogue and normalize relations since 2000 being aggressively rejected. Asmara and its President have consistently made it clear that prudence and negotiations are to be seen as a sign of weakness. Flexibility is seen as a sign of compliance with “the enemy”, and the enemy is apparently the rest of the world.
Nevertheless, however, as we noted last week, the Eritrean Government is prepared to abandon its normal intransigence and stubbornness on (rare) occasions, if only under duress and temporarily. It has been a regime following the logic of war since 1998, and even earlier; it is a regime driven by violence, and it only responds to overwhelming pressure as it did, albeit briefly in February 1999 and May 2000, when it acted in the same predictable manner. Demonstrating a complete inability to consider any reasonable course of action, it remained intransigent until the last minute and then succumbing under duress. Equally, it returned to its implacable immovability as soon as possible subsequently. It finds any departure from this, even with a gimmick such as the Ambassador’s letter, extremely difficult. Indeed, this is demonstrated by Ambassador Araya’s letter. Despite his supposed moderation, the Ambassador berates the Security Council for acts “contrary to the principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations”, repeating a number of attacks the Eritrean Government has made against the Security Council in the last two or three years. He even insists on raising the issue of the Eritrean Ethiopia border, continuing to claim this is at the heart of what he calls the turbulent situation in the region, and suggests it lies behind the conflicts in the region. As Ethiopia has consistently pointed out, and indeed as Eritrea does not deny, it has been Eritrea which has been behind many of the problems of the region. To put down Eritrea’s invasion of Djibouti or its support for terrorism in Somalia to “frustration” with Ethiopia and the UN is carrying absurdity a step too far. To then claim, as senior Eritrean figures do, that this also explains the Eritrean Government’s refusal to implement its constitution, to allow elections or political parties, to close down its independent media, to hold an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 political prisoners, to refuse to allow demobilization of its hundreds of thousands of national service conscripts, is carrying the argument to the ludicrous.
Certainly, the Eritrean Government should now be able to read the writing on the wall. Faced by the real threat of international sanctions over its behavior, it is not surprising that it is opting for the appearance of moderation. However, on past record, this is not the moment to modify the pressure. As the Ambassador’s letter demonstrates, Eritrea has made no more than a slight change of language and has shown no indication of any real change of heart, nor indeed of policy. It has shown no indication of any change of policies over Somalia, over Djibouti, over its support for armed struggle in other states and regional destabilization. Indeed, if the reports from Yemen are true, it is actually intensifying its actions, whether at the behest of its paymasters or on its own account. That Eritrean officials speaking from Asmara and New York are not sincere can easily be seen by comparing notes of what EU/Eritrean interlocutors have been told in Asmara and what the Eritrean Ambassador in New York has informed the Security Council in writing. We are changing and entering a new phase, says a top Eritrean official in Asmara, adding tantalizing hints about how things might change in the future. He talked about the re-ordering of Eritrea’s priorities, even suggesting that the exclusive pre-occupation with boundary matters might for the moment be left in the background. Within a few days or less, the Ambassador in New York was saying the opposite, confirming that prudence and commonsense advise that Eritrean statements must be treated with considerable skepticism.
Even in Asmara itself, depending to whom one talks, one can get diametrically opposed renditions of what Eritrea may be up to. Interviews with the President over the last few days make it all too apparent that what the EU Ambassadors and other EU delegations have been told by other officials contain no truth. They are designed to confuse and are no more that thinly designed prevarication. Indeed, the President was yesterday quoted as threatening the international community which he said would regret moves to impose sanctions on Eritrea. Eritrea has consistently made it clear it only responds to overwhelming pressure, and this is what must be applied. Clear changes of policy and active implementation of acceptance of UN Security Council Resolutions should be the first indication of compliance. It is only this which will help bring back the region towards the rule of law and the goals of defeating poverty and keeping extremism at bay. (MoFA)