It all began in 2000, when Eritrea and Ethiopia, exhausted from war, decided to end their bloody border dispute by submitting to international arbitration. When the arbiters in the Hague handed down their ruling, they awarded the key disputed territory to Eritrea. End of story, right? Wrong. Ethiopia simply refused to withdraw and a stalemate ensued.
A changing international scene did not help things. The Clinton administration was instrumental in forging the original settlement between Ethiopia and Eritrea. But by the time of the arbitration ruling, September 11 had already occurred and the Bush administration was focused on leveraging the support of Ethiopia on terrorism issues in the Horn of Africa. Accordingly, the United States was reluctant to press Ethiopia to abide by the ruling.
From an Eritrean perspective, you can see how this might be unsettling. Asmara had agreed to binding international arbitration, but the international community was apparently unwilling to enforce the ruling. Caught in the middle were a few thousand UN Peacekeepers along the border, acting as a buffer between the two armies.
As Eritrea’s understandable frustration with the international community grew, Asmara began to lash out in patently unhelpful ways. It kicked out UN Peacekeepers by blocking their shipments of petrol and food; made threatening statements aganst top American officials; attacked neighboring Djibouti; and supported a faction opposed to the internationally-backed Transitional Federal Government of Somalia.
This latter issue is particularly troubling to the Obama administration. Indeed, just yesterday, Susan Rice raised the spectre of Security Council sanctions on Eritrea for their support of al Shabab, a Somali insurgent group the United States has labeled a terrorist organization. In her congressional hearing, Rice accused Asmara of “arming, supporting, and funding” the group. This is about as close to calling a country a state sponsor of terrorism as you can get.
Now, there are a number of Eritreans and Ethiopians living abroad–especially here in Washington and in Seattle. Whenever we post on the Ethiopia-Eritrea-Somalia issue, a lively debate ensues. So, in the interests of keeping things civil, let me post this item sent to me by reader Haile A of Organization of Eritrean Americans in North America.
The Organization of Eritrean Americans (OEA) in North America vehemently rejects the recent statement by AU (African Union), calling on the UN to impose sanctions on Eritrea for allegedly “providing support to the armed groups” in the current Somalia conflict. Eritrea has repeatedly refuted any involvement in the deadly conflict in Somalia, and, on many occasions in the past, it strongly challenged the Somali Monitoring Group’s allegations and unsubstantiated charges to present irrefutable and tangible evidences, but to no avail.
OEA, once again, would like to remind the Security Council that there has not been any evidence that would warrant sanctions on Eritrea. Earlier allegations, such as the presence of “2000 Eritrean troops” inside Somalia and also the shipment of “AK-47 rifles” to the insurgents in Somalia have been proven to be pure fabrications. It should be recalled that Mr. Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, in a recent news conference stated that there had not been any evidence to prove the allegations that were made against Eritrea.
As Americans of Eritrean descent, we have a vested interest in seeing peace, stability and security in the Horn region. We believe that Eritrea’s position, which calls on the Somali people to resolve their own differences without external interference, is not only a political stand that Eritrea is entitled to have, but could also turn out to be the best option for Somalia.
We urge the UN Security Council to exercise a fair and just practice in evaluating all the facts and evidence to find a lasting peace in the region. The UN Security Council should not be swayed by certain quarters when the lives of so many are at stake. The mistakes made thus far in Somalia have resulted in the largest humanitarian crises in the history of that country.
If the Security Council chooses to use Eritrea as a scapegoat and takes punitive action based on groundless charges, not only would this not bring peace and security to Somalia but it would also further destabilize the strategic Horn of Africa region.