Ethiopia's Raid of Eritrea Was to Pursue "Terrorists"

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Under these circumstances, the Security Council was inclined to treat the Ethiopian incursion the same way it treated the Kenyan invasion of Somalia last October in pursuit of Al-Qada linked Al-Shabab operatives who attacked tourists inside Kenya.

[Comment: Global]

Eritrean leader Isaias Afewerki has fastened the blame on the US for "organizing" the recent Ethiopian military incursions, which he said was aimed at diverting world attention from his country’s border row with Ethiopia.

In a recent interview with Eritrean State TV,  Isaias said the Ethiopian attack had its roots in Washington’s “failed agendas” and “wrong calculations”.  Whether his assertions are shared by the rest of the country is hard to fathom as people are not free to offer opinions and criticizing the government is unimaginable.

Whatever Isaias’s position, the Security Council simply ignored his government’s concern, which meant for the UN bending its Charter principles of the sanctity of the idea of territorial integrity of UN member states. The Eritrean government is not helped by its isolationist, defiant behavior which has led to debilitating UN sanctions imposed on charges of fueling violence and terrorism in the Horn of Africa Region. Its deplorable human rights record has also earned her no friends.

Under these circumstances, the Security Council was inclined to treat the Ethiopian incursion the same way it treated the Kenyan invasion of Somalia last October in pursuit of Al-Qada linked Al-Shabab operatives who attacked tourists inside Kenya. A UN sanctions monitoring team determined in July that both Somalia and Eritrea were serving “as platforms for foreign armed groups that represent a grave and increasingly urgent threat to peace and security in the Horn and East Africa region”.

Ethiopia said it was acting in self-defense when it invaded more than 10 miles into Eritrea in mid- March overrunning three of its military garrisons at Gibina, Gelehibe and Ramid in South Eastern Eritrea. The Asmara regime was “arming and training…hit-and-run terrorists” such as the anti-Ethiopia Afar rebels who attacked 27 European tourists in January murdering 5 and kidnapping two others.

A government statement warned of additional operations if Eritrea failed to stop being a “launching pad for attacks against Ethiopia.”

In a statement after Ethiopia announced its operations, the Eritrean government dismissed Ethiopian accusations that it supported the Afar Revolutionary Democratic Unity Front or ARDUF to attack the tourists. Avoiding a retaliatory response, it urged the UN to denounce the Ethiopian action which it claimed was aimed at diverting attention from its border dispute with Ethiopia.

The UN Sanctions Monitoring Group says Eritrea has continued relationship with Al-Shabab. The Eritrean government rejects The African Union (AU) military intervention in Somalia as amounting to “meddling” in the internal affairs of the Horn of Africa country. The UN regards Eritrea’s attitude and support of Al Shabab as a cynical plan that only encourages extremism and terrorism which has so far claimed the lives of thousands of Somalis.

The UN thus concludes that “Eritrean involvement in Somalia reflects a broader pattern of intelligence and special operations activity, including training, financial and logistical support to armed opposition groups in Djibouti, Ethiopia, the Sudan." Added to this was the UN report of a foiled Eritrean attempt to blow up an AU summit in January 2011 in Addis Ababa.

The Security Council imposed a stricter second round of sanctions on Eritrea in December targeting its lucrative mining industry and its “Diaspora taxes” believed to be collected through methods of intimidation, blackmail and extortion from hundreds of thousands of Eritrean refugees and other expatriates. The UN says impoverished Eritrea is using these sources of revenue to destabilize the Horn Region. Eritrea has denied the UN charges.

UN-Eritrea relations are at their lowest point. They started deteriorating in 2008 when Eritrea expelled UN Peace Monitoring troops from areas on the Eritrean side of the border with Ethiopia, which Addis Ababa now says are being used as safe haven for "insurgents and terrorists" preparing to launch subversive missions in Ethiopia. The UN presence on the border was meant to discourage the kind of military action Ethiopia took inside Eritrea over a week ago – an action which could lead to Eritrean reprisals, thus sending the two nations to yet another bloody war.

By kicking the UN peace forces out, Eritrea wanted to remind its citizens that the war was not over until the border was demarcated. In so doing it was also putting pressure on the UN to force Ethiopia to abide by a “final and binding” demarcation resolution adopted in 2002 by a Hague-based Border Commission. The resolution puts the contentious village of Badme inside Eritrea.

Ethiopia has since decided to accept the Hague ruling unconditionally but says it wants negotiations with Eritrea on how to implement it. Eritrea wants physical demarcation first and then it will decide if it wants to talk. Thus the impasse continues.
The Eritrean government’s reported destabilizing role in the Horn Region is defenseless. Equally reprehensible is its shocking of human rights violations which the international community needs to urgently tackle if the regime is to be humanized.

A UN report links the regime to “people trafficking” involving despairing Eritreans trying to get out of the country. At home, citizens face arbitrary arrests, torture and detention in life-threatening conditions for indefinite periods of time.

The government justifies the state of affairs because of its unsettled border issues with Ethiopia. But it has also given no hint that there will be democratization and respect for human rights once its border problems are solved. Additionally, there are no indications that the government will introduce changes in its dangerous foreign policy.


Abraha writes from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia


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