Bringing Eritrea in from the cold: we need to un-break the US-Ethiopia-Eritrea triangle – Awet T. Weldemichael

Security Council Meeting on the situation in Somalia.

The Security Council unanimously adopts resolution 2111 (2013), reaffirming the arms embargoes on Somalia and Eritirea.

In a span of a month, three towering figures – if retired – in American foreign policy establishment on Africa publicly called for an end to the Eritrean-Ethiopian conflict and the rapprochement between the United States and Eritrea. In mid-December 2013, former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Herman Cohen argued that bringing “Eritrea in from the cold” was overdue. On January 13th, onetime US Ambassador to Ethiopia David Shinn concurred and offered a critical analysis of the context leading up to and sustaining the Eritrean-Ethiopian deadlock, which deteriorated US relations with its former Horn of Africa ally, Eritrea. The next day, Ambassador Princeton Lyman, who recently spearheaded US diplomatic initiatives on Sudan and South Sudan, also welcomed Cohen’s call for an US-Eritrean rapprochement but opined that the estrangement persisted not for lack of trying to break it. While Cohen did not say anything that implies the process would be easy, Shinn and Lyman are right to point out the difficulty – past and future.

All these are welcome signs of – or at least invitations for – the much needed thawing of relations between the United States and Eritrea, which have shared, albeit underappreciated, strategic interests in the Red Sea basin. Moreover, such critical interjections bid well for a resolution to the Eritrean-Ethiopian impasse and an improvement of their relations, critical for regional stability and international security. Some points deserve to be regurgitated and a few others demand added emphasis to draw the sober attention of all concerned.

The United States is not an innocent bystander in its estrangement with Eritrea nor has it by any measure been a neutral broker in the broken relations between its former allies, Eritrea and Ethiopia. US-Eritrean relations deteriorated first because Washington betrayed its role as a guarantor of the June 2000 Algiers Agreement and tolerated – if not encouraged – Addis Ababa to renege on the binding ruling of the international court that in 2002 awarded to Eritrea the flash point of the border dispute. Against the advice of seasoned career diplomats, political appointees of the George W. Bush Administration were brazen in their search for alternatives to what had by then entered the books of international law. Eritrea’s refusal to budge, its insistence on the implementation of the EEBC ruling first, and its pursuit of what its leaders call an independent foreign policy did not sit well with the powers that be.

When the Obama Administration took over, the figures who had helped negotiate the difficult peace agreement came back full force. But, while leftover personal ill feelings cannot be discounted, eight years of misguided US policies and Eritrean vitriol limited their options. Instead of being flexible and creative within the little room that they had left, the new foreign policy team lazily maintained the entrenched eight-year old policy: upping the pressure on Eritrea and pushing it further into the corner until it is cowed into line.

In 2009, Washington crafted a United Nations Security Council resolution to punish Asmara on the basis of some unverified and some unverifiable claims, and other utter fabrications of the Somalia Eritrea Monitoring Group. In maintaining the sanctions, American foreign policy architects were so adamant that in late December 2011 they created a dangerous precedent of denying the head of state of a UN member, and a defendant in a serious case at that, a hearing at the Security Council.

The methodical denial of Eritrea’s right took place in three steps: The Security Council Presidency procrastinated to acknowledge and grant the request of President Isaias Afwerki to address the world body during its debate on the motion to renew the sanctions against Eritrea. Once that hurdle was overcome, the United States Embassy in Asmara delayed issuing the Eritrean president a US visa to enable him to travel to New York. And finally, the Security Council President, Ambassador Nelson Messone of Gabon (also an U.S. citizen), suddenly put the motion in “˜blue’, i.e. on an expedited track, for no good reason.

The long laundry list of Washington’s consequential malice against little Eritrea during the short decade comes on the heels of an even longer-established, far more devastating American hostility toward the existence of an independent Eritrea, a baggage that Eritreans are quick to point to. While seemingly impossible, however, it is not inconceivable for US-Eritrea relations to start afresh from a cleaner slate in spite, and not because, of their history. That will first and foremost require US appreciation of its strategic interests with and in a stable Eritrean state and that it should endeavor to make the latter sustainable; an acknowledgment by both Eritrean and American policy makers that the US is not the custodian of resuming relations between Asmara and Addis Ababa; and a recognition that there may be other actors working to restore relations between the two countries (or, for that matter, to spoil them even further).

In late 2008, the then Ethiopia PM Meles Zenawi confided in an individual intermediary that he was prepared to pull Ethiopian troops out of Eritrean territory if President Isaias Afwerki provided credible assurances that he would allow the normalization of relations between the two countries – which the latter did. That promising initiative faltered because of unwarranted aggressive external intrusion. Were Ethiopian leaders to reaffirm their unconditional acceptance of the EEBC ruling and give similar assurances to unilaterally withdraw their forces from all occupied Eritrean territories, it may be worthwhile for Eritrea of its own volition to consider an alternative to the sequencing of issues. The least evil of the available choices – and one that may not have been considered before – may be for a neutral international force acceptable to Asmara (Sudan, Qatar, Turkey, India, Pakistan) to step in the place of the withdrawing Ethiopian forces for a limited agreed up on time (and ideally not exceeding 30 days). The two countries would commit that, once Ethiopian withdrawals are completed, they would take meaningful steps during the specified timeframe to normalize relations and lay substantive parameters of physically demarcating their borders on the ground.

But pushing for such a creative compromise and asking Eritrea to make such a hefty concession will require adequate understanding of and preparation for the fact that, in the absence of the intellectually formidable, diplomatically savvy and politically domineering Meles Zenawi, dealing with Ethiopia is not quite the same. There now are at least half a dozen powerful personalities running Ethiopia (Prime Minister Hailemariam is but one of them). They lack consensus, and the strength and tact of their departed leader to chart a new approach toward Eritrea. The only consensus they have so far forged – notwithstanding the prime minister’s public relations stunt of being ready to travel to Asmara to negotiate with his Eritrean counterpart – seems to be staying the course on Eritrea and preserving what they call “the Meles legacy.” Dissimulating anxiety at Eritrea becoming another failed state on their border, these two approaches are meant to weaken Eritrea.

It bids well for future US-Eritrean and Eritrean-Ethiopian relations for Washington to help disabuse Addis Ababa of these contradictions and persuade Ethiopian leaders to abide by international law. Legal and responsible resolution of Eritrean-Ethiopian disputes and their cooperation in pursuit of palpable common interests would be of greatest service to international security, regional stability, and to US-Eritrean relations. Rapprochement between Eritrea and the United States is not mutually exclusive with the existing US-Ethiopian relations; they are complimentary to one another. Legal resolution of the current Eritrean-Ethiopian stalemate, the two countries’ recognition of their shared strategic interests, and their transparent and forward looking cooperation would make it easier for the United States to pursue balanced bilateral as well as trilateral partnerships with the two countries.

I would be remiss of my duties as a citizen to conclude without calling on the Government of Eritrea to seize on every opportunity that could lead to the end of the Eritrean-Ethiopian conflict and the start of rapprochement with the United States. This would in turn allow Eritreans to focus on and address the long-stalled political process inside the country through inclusive and integrated processes of national reconciliation and political transition.

Dr. Awet T. Weldemichael is the author of Third World Colonialism and Strategies of Liberation: Eritrea and East Timor Compared. He teaches history at the University of Kentucky. The views expressed here are the author’s own, and do not represent the views of any institution or group that the author is affiliated with.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the RSS feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.

14 thoughts on “Bringing Eritrea in from the cold: we need to un-break the US-Ethiopia-Eritrea triangle – Awet T. Weldemichael

  1. Although i agree with most of what your saying, i don’t agree with your assertion that “the Eritrean government should ‘seize’ on every opportunity that could lead to the ‘end of’ the Eritrea-ethiopia ‘conflict’…..with US”, first there is no ‘conflict’, there is one country Eritrea that wants peace and there is another country ethiopia that wants war, that is illegally occupying Eritreas land. Let me ask you this would you say that a young infant child (Eritrea), which is getting bullied by immature pensioners (US & it’s puppet ethiopia) as being in ‘conflit’ with one another?One is the aggressor and the other a victim. Eritrea has clearly stated through its President, ‘that if ethiopia withdraws from occupied lands in the morning, dialogue can begin in the afternoon’, what more can peace loving Eritrea, do more than that ! It’s quite simple ethiopia needs to vacate Eritrea & the border physically demarcated with pillars on the ground. All this time wasting old trick’s on the part of the US & it’s puppet ethiopia, is not going to work & will NEVER change a FINAL & BINDING agreement.

  2. First commenter, As a propagandist you don’t seem to be communicating well with your leaders…your leaders use conflict and a perceived fear of ethiopian invasion as an excuse to indefinably lock their citizens in military camps, yet you are here telling us there is no conflict…Eritrea’s conflict may be with itself, but there is certainly a conflict between what’s happening in Eritrea and what propagandists like you try to sell to the world..
    Secondly, you keep crying about a disputed piece of land being a reason for Eritrea’s failure to produce result, If given the land can you explain how a small dusty piece of land would contribute to your socioeconomic performance or political behavior? ….as for Ethiopia it is because it knows Bademe alone is NOT the reason for the stalemate, hence it wants real dialog before agreeing to border commission’s decision, and at least it never uses the dispute as an excuse for poor socioeconomic performance or political failures. So what is that you want to achieve through Badime and do you think Ethiopisn do not know it? I am just curious because no one seems to ask you why Eritrea is the only country that uses border dispute for stupidity while there are tens of countries around the world that have border dispute yet non of them use it as an excuse to oppress their citizens..

  3. @Tadias

    We have heard this nonsense from the likes of you all the time, and it just boring now. People who haven’t got a clue about the situation, refer to the Eritrean government as using the occupation of it’s land by ethiopia & threat of invasion as an ‘excuse’ for some of it’s policies, this is hilarious to say the least,first by ethiopia occupying Eritreas land that is an invasion itself & an act of war, second ethiopia through out the last couple of years has made several failed military invasions, specifically in 2012, when it claimed & bragged about & told the world about through the media that it went a few kilometers inside Eritrea(as if its not already occupying it’s land) and attacked military camps, what it didn’t tell the world is how it got a blooded nose, & sent back to where it came from. So with these violations & bragging about it and also the fact that the ethiopian regime openly says its working to remove the Eritrean government/people from Eritrea, what you or anyone says about this real threat being an ‘excuse’ has no bearing at all.

    Eritrea with a small population, would of rather had wanted & loved to have all it’s valuable human resources on fully focusing on the development of it’s economy & devastated country, rather than keeping alert at all times on the criminal activities of the ethiopian regime. Having said that, to the amazement of the whole world and it’s enemies, Eritrea is one of the fastest growing economies in the world and has achieved almost all millennium development goals, despite all the obstacles & hurdles it had to overcome, this is what scares the powers at be, im not talking about ethiopia, ethiopia is insignificant it has no strength to face Eritrea on it’s own, its the certain organisations & people in the US & else where who gives it’s good old puppet ethiopia the diplomatic,political, media… shield, plus the billions of dollars in aid they provide to ethiopia. Eritrea’s enemies don’t want Eritrea to be fully focused on it’s development and democratization processes, as what Eritrea a young country that refuses aid, that had been devastated by decades of war, that’s been illegally sanctioned, still manages to survive & not just survive but also grow stronger & stronger by the day, scares them. Regardless Eritrea will keep making miracles it’s only going to get better, yes her enemies will keep throwing obstacles in its way, this will only be a mere nuisance & will not stop the success of a truly Independent African nation that is Eritrea.

  4. Dear Dr. Awet, Notwithstanding an academician like yourself need to appear a neutral and balanced on issues even sometimes the overwhelming evidence suggests otherwise; I agree with the essence and thrust of your article. That the US misguided policy on the horn of Africa has resulted the making of unstable and dangerous horn of Africa and made Eritrea a victim of these policies. And Yes, Eritrea was betrayed, bullied and left to its devices to ascertain its sovereignty not for the first time in its tumultuous history. If there was ever a manual of how not to resolve conflicts in Africa, then one can not go far from the handling by US officials of the Eritrean-Ethiopian conflict that is still smouldering todate.

    If the Cohens, Shinns, … are a towering figures of US foreign policies on Africa, as you claim them to be, then why did they have to wait until they reach the shadows of their influential careers before they start to utter few sensible things to right the wrongdoings and unforgivable callousness that they themselves inflicted on Eritrea. Afterall, they are the architects of the present quagmire. Moreover, what I found totally unpalatable in your article is your description of the late Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. It appears to me that you have swallowed the hysteria and eulogy that was spewed in Ethiopian television after his death. I have always found him intellectually deficient and always relied on machiavellian politics of power control and constantly showing the signs of inferiority complex to the towering leader of Eritrea. He was always pushing himself to prove that he is better than President Isaias Afwerki. I would not be surprised if that is the main trigger of his final demise, a brain damage of some sort. Yes, this is the kind of speculation we are left with after witnessing the great length they have gone to conceal what is the cause of death of the late Ethiopian Prime Minister.

    Finally, I really want to commend your well thought and delivered article and how I wish you did not feel compelled to add the final paragraph and completely jumped out of the subject only to show that you are balanced commentator. It might get you more readership but it does not make you more right on the subject. It made the article out of tune.

    Sirak Bahlbi

  5. dear Ambassador, I apologize for slightly drifting off the subject, but I just came across a report about your comment regarding Ethiopia’s right to a port and the need for discussion.. But the trouble you seem to believe the idea that Assab belongs to Ethiopia is outdated. If so, what more is there to discuss? you think Eritreans obtaining Assab without negotiation is right, but at the same time you believe Ethiopia obtaining Badime without negotiation is wrong…By the way there is nothing new about the way western diplomats see African issue only in terms their own convenience, but I hope you can understand why many Ethiopians feel frustrated about a seasoned diplomat like yourself being reduced to a lobbyist for the end of the day Mr Ambassader, Ethiopia earned it’s card for whatever negotiation you are trying to initiate with blood and sweat of it’s citizens, while your new found friends tried it with force and Ethiopia can can dictate it with or without Assab while you are free to flirt with Eritrea in whichever way you like..but at least do not try to make us feel guilty for demanding our right to access to the sea me, our demand for a port that is just a few yards from us can not be any where near as absurd as your best friends who claim our rives as their own.. thanks and sorry for being to blunt…we are just tired of your double standard sir!

  6. The question I have for our Asmara brothers is simple: this new push for rapprochement between Addis and the Asmara generals, what is in it for Ethiopia? Why, nothing; there is nothing in it for Ethiopia. Of course, other than, as I have commented earlier, starting to pay for using Assab, thereby sustaining Egyptian conspiracy to undermine and weaken it.

    We want Asmara to go it alone for long enough that it can reexamine the viability of its independence. The result so far had only manifested itself as a boon for sadist Arab human traffickers. Maybe this would encourage the Asmara generals to conduct another LEGITIMATE referendum to review their fundamental relationship with Addis? Why not? Nobody asked Ethiopians two decades ago what they thought about the establishment of a regime by and for the Egyptians whose sole purpose is keeping Ethiopia weak so that they can have no say over the control of the Red Sea and the Blue Nile River. For example, what is Egypt doing to stop Ethiopia from building the Renaissance Dam? .. send its diplomats to Asmara to make trouble to stop the project. You heard about it, didn’t you? It’s been in the news just the other day.

    Now, calm down, nobody is talking about going to war here; all we are saying is: what is wrong with giving the Asmara generals more time to reflect on the viability of running an Egyptian backed regime designed to weaken Ethiopia, and wait for it, paid for by Ethiopia! We do believe this to be utterly unfair and insulting.

    So, we say, let all these old United States diplomats fall on top of each other trying to sell Addis this insulting proposition, Ethiopia is not interested! The Asmara generals has to make up their mind: do they want to work with Addis like the brothers we had always been or continue to work for the Egyptians at the expense of Ethiopia?? The choice is for these Asmara generals to make.

  7. @Addis Alem

    It looks like you seem to be bewildered & dumb found on how Eritrea a very young country manages to stand tall & strong on it’s own despite refusing billions in aid & is illegally sanctioned, while your country ethiopia, with all the help it receives in billion dollars in aid just manages to survive, without the foreigners help ethiopia wouldn’t survive for a 1 or 2 years. That’s why we see you speaking some mambo-jambo nonsense about a ‘Egyptian Conspiracy’ to weaken ethiopia! That is laughable, Egypt is another country that is dependent on foreign aid it receives billions, it is in no position to be ‘backing’ or supporting Eritrea, matter of fact it is struggling to survive itself. Now if you said that Egypt, wants to learn & take advice from Eritrea, that would make more sense. As Eritrea is well known for being a truly Independent nation & takes orders from none. Unlike the puppet ethiopians who would invade there neighbouring countries on behalf of the US for a few breadcrumbs, like it did with Eritrea in 1998 & Somalia in 2006, ethiopia didn’t even care about the hundreds of thousands of it’s soldiers that had died & injured in these needless wars.

    And on your obsession with Asab, im not going to waste my time on explaining to you the reality, all im going to say to you is to stop wasting your life on daydreaming & fantasizing on things you will Never have i.e. the Red Sea.

    Anyway im going to be heading to Eritrea’s beautiful Red Sea & Port Asab in a couple of months, so wish me a good time 🙂

  8. Haki,

    Only God knows whether what you said about Egyptian conspiracy is a blatant denial or laughable delusion; anyways, nobody cares. We already knew you brothers need fantasy fairy tales to get the pseudo nationhood going. We get it.

    And it’s really wonderful that your friends, the Asmara lunatics, are offering to help Egypt out of its current crisis. Oh you mighty tegadelties! You people for sure know how to offer the world the moon, only to settle for supplying sadist Arabs with our brothers and sisters to play with.

    Now, the greedy generals in Asmara are as free as North Korea is to starve independently; this is fine with Addis. What is not fine with Addis is paying for Assab; this is insulting; we simply cannot allow the Egyptians to cut off our head at our own expense; they should pay for their own project.

  9. @Haki

    Enjoy your bath along with your battle-hardened skinny camels!!! Since you guys have been very good at giving your butts to every foreigner that visited the region – be it the Egyptians, the Turks, or the Italians – it is high time it needs a bath!!!

  10. @Addis Alem & @observer

    lol, It is a waste of my time to be educating lying, obsessed, lunatic daydreamers, so my response is a good old yawn, and simply move on. Eritrea will keep moving forward, while you obsessed chuawas keep barking.

  11. The greedy asmara generals have three options:

    1) Continue to rot in their “independent” isolation

    2) Hand over Assab to Addis, and nobody cares if they wanted to continue playing with their arab friends

    3) Fall back to the open arms of the motherland

    Other than those options, Addis would rather nurse an older mistake and continue to spoil little Djibouti than let the Egyptians run asmara with our port payments.

  12. or one more option . . .

    4) act like an adult and “crop-out” their tiny baby-land from Africa and staple it with Sicily – where they think it belongs! Over there, we hope they might get the warmth they have been longing for ages – from the good old hairy butt of Berlusconi! They will then be happy ever after!!!

  13. In a brilliant and yest incisive analysis, Ethiopia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs shot back with striking details of Eritrea’s bellicose , militant adventurism in its foreign relations. The piece is quite revealing in the sense that the attempt of Dr .Awet, Cohen and Shinn to evoke sympathy for Eritrea is grounded on faulty assumptions of the change of behaviour on Eritrea’s side. Here is the link and the entire piece . The piece is published in the Ministries weekly Bulletin Week in The Horn

    Bringing Eritrea “in from the cold” needs real policy changes by Eritrea’s government

    Every year or two, there’s a wave of suggestions that it might be time for the US to try and once again engage with Eritrea. The latest such effort came in December from former US Assistant Secretary of State for Africa (1989-1993), Herman Cohen in a piece entitled: “Time to Bring Eritrea in from the Cold”. Ambassador Cohen now heads a lobby firm but his recommendation was picked up by former US Ambassador to Ethiopia, David Shinn and by the former US Ambassador to South Africa, Princeton Lyman, both of whom supported the idea but argued (on the same website) that this might not be easy. Ambassador Shinn thought the idea was “harder than it sounds”, while Ambassador Lyman in a masterly understatement said previous efforts by the US had proved “difficult”. They are likely to continue to be so. Only last October, the Eritrean regime publicly blamed the US (and later the UN) for the Lampedusa tragedy when 366 Eritreans, mainly youngsters, were drowned trying to reach Italy, having fled from their own country. This sort of rhetoric is a commonplace of the Eritrean regime which in the past has claimed the US created the 1998 Eritrean-Ethiopian war, and suggested the 9/11 atrocity was carried out by the US itself. Nevertheless, Messrs. Cohen, Shinn and Lyman seemed to think: “we should try”.

    In principle, of course, no one would disagree. Everyone would like to see Eritrea change policies and lose its status as a pariah state, but none of these comments by former US diplomats, get to the heart of the problem. This lies in the nature of the regime in Asmara and, leaving aside its highly repressive internal activities, its external policies. Others, besides the US have tried to improve relations with Eritrea over the years. None have been more than minimally successful. The reasons are simple and relate largely to Eritrea and President Isaias’ insistence on ignoring all norms of international behavior and international relations. Eritrea has repeatedly demonstrated over the past 23 years that the fundamental principles of its external policies are force, aggression and violence, either open or clandestine. These attitudes also characterize its internal policies. President Isaias operates with little understanding or interest in the wider world, which he has tended to ignore, especially when it fails to treat him with the exaggerated respect he apparently believes he and Eritrea deserve.

    In the past neither efforts to establish trust nor attempts to negotiate have made much progress. It is only now as sanctions have begun to cause problems with remittances and offer a possible threat to mining operations which provide the major source of revenue to keep senior army officers and party leaders quiescent, that awareness is creeping in that the regime is facing deep and real economic and social problems. The most recent IMF estimates are that Eritrea’s per-capita GDP adjusted for purchasing power parity will grow only around 1.7% between 2013 and 2018, a mark that will lead to the nation being ranked as the second-poorest country in the world before the end of the decade. This is despite the input of some quite substantial profits from mining, though there have widespread claims that these are dependent upon what amounts to ‘slave labor’.

    At the center of the argument of Messrs Cohen and Shinn is the issue of Eritrea’s relations with Ethiopia. Both seem to accept the idea that President Isaias’ hostility to the outside world, the US and everybody else, is caused by insecurity in the face of a continued threat posed by Ethiopia, seen of course, as a US ally. The excuses for the increasing sacrifices demanded of the population is provided by the threat of the “evil, hostile, menace of Ethiopia,” or by the machinations of the US and its control of the UN and indeed almost everybody else. Indeed, to paraphrase an older US diplomat, referring to Stalin’s policies after the Second World War: “A hostile international environment is the breath of life for the prevailing internal system…” The “threat” of Ethiopia is the standard official line provided by Eritrea and has provided the excuse for keeping national conscripts mobilized since 1998, but it no longer appears to be working. The population is hemorrhaging at a rate of 600 people a week across the border with Ethiopia and similar numbers to the Sudan, in spite of shoot to kill orders along the frontiers. According to the UN Special Rapporteur for Eritrea, some of those now crossing the border are unaccompanied children as young as five or six.

    In fact, any external danger to the concept or reality of an independent Eritrea vanished in 1991 when the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) took power in Ethiopia. The EPRDF played a major role in helping the EPLF win its war for independence. Once in power in Addis Ababa it immediately encouraged the assumption and recognition of Eritrea’s independence. There has been no change of policy since, despite Eritrea’s invasion of Ethiopia in May 1998.

    Messrs. Cohen and Shinn go into some detail of the 1998-2000 war, but much of their comment is inaccurate. They also miss the central point, noted by the UN Claims Commission –“Eritrea violated Article 2, paragraph 4, of the Charter of the United Nations by resorting to armed force to attack and occupy Badme, then under peaceful administration by Ethiopia as well as other territory…in an attack that began on May 12, 1998…”. (Claims Commission’s Partial Award Jus Ad Bellum (December 19, 2005), paragraph 16). The war was the result of Eritrea sending pre-prepared mobilized infantry and mechanized brigades across what was, at the time, the accepted administrative border between the two countries. It was a very clear case of aggression.

    Eritrea’s defeat in June 2000 and its signing of a Cessation of Hostilities Agreement, followed by the Algiers Peace Agreement in December, produced no change in attitude. The Algiers Agreements required the creation of a 25 kms wide Temporary Security Zone along the border inside Eritrea, and the deployment of a United Nations Peacekeeping Mission to Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) to monitor this and the ceasefire. UNMEE was also given the task of providing logistical and security assistance to the demarcation exercise which was due to follow the Decisions of the Eritrea Ethiopia Boundary Commission, announced in April 2002.

    Eritrea began its efforts to underline the Algiers Agreements prior to 2002, and subsequently ignored Ethiopia’s acceptance of the EEBC Decisions in November 2004. Ethiopia had originally raised some concerns over the EEBC Decisions, but after failing to get satisfaction for these, it made it clear it was prepared to proceed to demarcation in conformity with international practice, and consistent with the Algiers Agreements and their aim of bringing about sustainable peace and the normalization of relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea. However, as soon as Ethiopia accepted the EEBC Decisions, Eritrea openly began to flout the Algiers Agreements, persistently violating the TSZ and imposing restrictions on UNMEE. By 2007, the UN Secretary General noted in a report to the Security Council that the Eritrean troops that had illegally entered the Transitional Security Zone in October 2006, not for the first time, had remained, and that Eritrea had also deployed additional troops accompanied by tanks and heavy armament. He described Eritrea’s restrictions on UNMEE as representing “a serious violation of the Agreement on Cessation of Hostilities of 18 June 2000, the 2001 Protocol Agreement of 17 June 2001 concluded between Eritrea and UNMEE, and relevant Security Council resolutions…”. When these activities met with no more than mild verbal criticism from the Security Council, it steadily expanded its activities until it had taken over the whole TSZ, rendering the Algiers Agreements, including the Agreement on Cessation of Hostilities, effectively null and void. The Security Council did pass a number of resolutions demanding Eritrea remove all restrictions on UNMEE, but it took any action and in February 2008 the situation reached a point where UNMEE, humiliatingly, was forced to withdraw.

    This demonstration of UN weakness encouraged Eritrea in its bellicosity, its aggressiveness and its disregard for international norms, and another example followed almost immediately. In June 2008, Eritrea invaded Djibouti and seized several strategic locations just inside northern Djibouti, including the islands of Doumeira and Kallida. In subsequent fighting nearly sixty Djiboutian soldiers were killed or wounded, and a senior officer and 18 others captured. Eritrean losses amounted to around 200 killed or captured. President Isaias denied there had been any clashes and persisted in this despite all the evidence of fighting. Eventually, two years later, in June 2010, following mediation efforts by Qatar at the request of Djibouti, Eritrean troops withdrew from the border areas, though the government still refused to admit there had been any conflict. A Qatari observation force was deployed to monitor the border area until a final agreement could eventually be reached, but no progress has been made in releasing Djibouti prisoners of war or in reaching a settlement as President Isaias still denies that anything happens. This time, the Security Council did react and imposed sanctions. Subsequently, with no apparent change in Eritrea’s attitudes or policy over Djibouti, extremist support or destabilization policies in the region, the Security Council, not unreasonably, repeated its belief that Eritrea was a threat to international peace and security, and extended sanctions by another 16 months, to the end of 2014.

    Another area of activity by Eritrea which also led to the imposition of UN sanctions was over Eritrea’s persistent interference in Somalia and its support for extremist and terrorist organizations there. After the fall of the ICU in Somalia in December 2006, Eritrea gave refuge to Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys and other leaders of what later became Hizbul Islam and supported its anti-government operations in Somalia with planeloads of arms as well as training and funds. These activities included support for Al-Itihaad, Hizbul Islam, and Al-Shabaab, and the UN Monitoring Group produced detailed evidence of its transactions. President Isaias has also repeatedly insisted that Al-Shabaab and similar organizations must be considered Somali stakeholders, claiming despite all evidence they are not terrorists and they should be brought into government. Eritrea, unlike all other IGAD states, refused to recognize either the TNG or the current Federal Government of Somalia. It even withdrew from IGAD in anger that other IGAD states refused to follow its line, though it has now asked to return. It hasn’t changed policy. In 2013, the Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea issued two separate reports and concluded that Eritrea had diversified its support for extremist operations to Sudan, South Sudan, Uganda and Yemen in addition to fronting a number of business operations.

    This is, indeed, a government that relies so totally on the fiction of external threats to maintain its own internal legitimacy that whenever and wherever the fantasy appears threadbare, it has deliberately recreated it with another outbreak of violence or aggression. This is in the conflicts it started with Yemen in 1996/7, Ethiopia in 1998-2000 and Djibouti in 2008. On other occasions it has repeatedly backed opposition forces, extremists and known terrorists, consistently attempting to destabilize Ethiopia and Somalia and interfere in the internal affairs of Sudan and later of South Sudan. Its foreign policy has, in fact, consistently and persistently continued to demonstrate a pattern of aggression and hostility.

    In fact, like any bully, Eritrea rapidly backs down when faced by firm action. Indeed, it is clear from past experience that the government in Asmara only responds to the threat of superior strength. Nothing less will produce change. As the UN Monitoring Group reports for both 2012 and 2013, as well as a mass of additional evidence, make clear, Eritrea has continued its efforts at regional destabilization. There has been no change of policy, merely some misrepresentation and verbal fiction. To lift sanctions now would send very much the wrong signals, giving Eritrea a green light to continue its policies of aggression and regional destabilization.

    The lack of movement, whether in normalizing relations between Eritrea and Ethiopia, in response to UN sanctions over regional destabilization or UN demands over the conflict with Djibouti, is quite clearly the responsibility of Eritrea, and Eritrea alone. It has nothing to do with Ethiopia or Eritrea’s border “dispute” with Ethiopia. Bringing in Eritrea “from the cold” can only come after a visible change of attitude in Eritrea, with implementation of a fundamental shift in attitude, an end to all aggressive policies, dismantling of training camps for extremists and terrorists, abandoning support for armed opposition groups and all other efforts to destabilize its neighbors. This needs to be accompanied by acknowledgement of the necessity for dialogue and acceptance of the norms of international diplomacy and adult relationships. Then and then only the lifting of sanctions and Eritrea’s reintegration into regional organizations and international politics might follow.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.