Eritrea's jabber clues its detachment from reality
By Senait Gebre
Tigrai Online, February 27, 2015
This week the regime in Eritrea issued a statement to react to what it called an "unwarranted and calumnious act of hostility".
Upon reading such a hyperbole statement, you would ask: Did anyone launch war against Eritrea? Or did anyone start arming terrorist and sneaking them into Eritrea? The answers are a definite No.
Apparently, words have lost meanings in Asmara. The "act of hostility" that prompted Eritrea into issuing a statement is nothing but the Joint Communiqué issued this months after the First High Level Joint Commission meeting of Ethiopian Djiboutian governments.
Indeed, the Joint Communiqué mentions Eritrea, but it was mainly on a wide-ranging bilateral and regional issues of economic and trade cooperation and peace and an expression of their commitment and determination to consolidate the existing strategic relations between the two countries and peoples in all fields of cooperation.
There is, however, only one specific sentence of the Joint Communiqué that mentions Eritrea. It reads:
Both sides condemned the continuous destabilization policy of the Eritrea Government and urged the international community to tighten the sanction imposed on the regime in Eritrea.
There is nothing new in this sentence that has not been said before. But the regime in Eritrea, which is unhappy with the spirit and direction of the entire of Joint Communiqué, picked on this sentence and issued a full-blown Press Statement denouncing the Joint Communiqué.
As usual, the Press Statement of Eritrea played fast and loose with the facts. Regarding Ethiopia, the Press Statement claimed that:
[Ethiopia] continued occupation of sovereign Eritrean territories constitutes the singular and central cause of regional destabilization is too palpable to merit additional emphasis. Unfortunately, the authorities in Addis Ababa seem to be immersed in a futile and transparent game of semantics. On the one hand, they say they are bound by the “final and binding ruling of the EEBC” only to qualify and annul this hollow “affirmation” and their treaty obligations by calls for “dialogue” and “readiness to go to Asmara” etc".
However, despite what Eritrea world has the world believe, there is lack of clarity on the part of Ethiopia.
As is well known, the Algiers Agreement signed by both parties in June 2000 is not simply about border and Ethiopia didn't break any part of the agreement. Ethiopia accepted the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission’s Decisions in November 2004, it has repeatedly called on Eritrea for comprehensive negotiations, for the finalization of the demarcation process and the normalization of relations.
Even in the face of persistent attempts by the regime in Asmara to carry out destabilization activities, Ethiopia has continued to make it clear its desire to talk. It also called in earnest for the start of talks on comprehensive normalization of relations. The Ethiopian government has had a firm and consistent position that the maintenance of lasting peace must go beyond the settling of border disputes.
It is also common knowledge that the late Prime Minister Meles said on numerous occasions and in many forums that that Ethiopia is ready to talk with Eritrea anywhere, any time and on any issue relating to the relations between the two countries. This has been the case ever since November 2004, and there has been no policy change towards Eritrea since then.
To the contrary, Eritrea continued to breach the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement and elements of the Algiers Agreement by engaging in a range of activities to destabilize Ethiopia, an allegation corroborated by UN reports.
Besides to its obstruction and expulsion of the UNMEE peacekeeping forces, whose presence is a pre-requisite for conducting the border demarcation! In fact, Ethiopian forces withdrew from Eritrean territory at the end of the war was on the condition that a demilitarized zone patrolled by UN would be established in the Eritrean side of the border.
A testament to Ethiopia's commitment to peace can be found in the Wikileaks Cable that summarize the discussion between Ambassador Oshima, (the then Chairman of the UN Security Council’s Working Group on Peace-keeping Operations), and diplomats in Addis Ababa representing UN Security Council members and troop-contributing countries (TCC), as well as Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General (SRSG) Amb. Legwaila Joseph Legwaila, his deputy Amb. Azouz Ennifar, and UNMEE Force Commander Major-General Rajender Singh.
The Cable stated that:
SRSG Legwaila interjected that the Eritrea’s restriction on UNMEE flights prevented UNMEE from monitoring 60 per cent of the border. UNMEE could not determine whether Eritrea was now building up forces along its side, he said.
On the Ethiopian side, there was "more transparency": UNMEE knew Ethiopia had been amassing troops since December 16, 2004. He noted that UNMEE had requested satellite imagery from the United States, as "there is no other alternative" to aerial surveillance.
Without aerial surveillance, UNMEE Force Commander Singh said he would need 15 times more troops (i.e., 45,000) to monitor the border; even more would be needed if the GSE imposed further restrictions, such as allowing only foot patrols.
Oshima praised Ethiopia’s "restraint" in responding to Eritrea’s restrictions on UNMEE, noting that UNMEE characterizes Ethiopia’s military deployments as "defensive." UNMEE officials, meanwhile, were more vocal in highlighting UNMEE’s inability to monitor 60 per cent of the border, especially military movements on the Eritrean side.
There can be no better demonstration that Ethiopia's commitment to peace, dialogue and reconciliation is a sincere one.
Regarding Djibouti, the Press Statement of Eritrea claimed that:
Djibouti’s unwarranted stance is also difficult to decipher. As it is well-known, the putative border dispute between the two countries has been entrusted to the good offices of a mutually agreed third party, the State of Qatar. in the event, Djibouti’s premature and hostile stance is hard to explain in terms of a pending, good-faith, dispute.
It is astounding that the regime in Eritrea claims the problem with Djibouti has been solved and claims to have found the demands of the Joint Communique "difficult to decipher".
Despite how the regime in Eritrea would want to spin, the world has a clear grasp of the matter. Among others, one is the unknown fate of the Djiboutian combatants held in Eritrea.
As the United Nations Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea recently noted
In paragraph 4 of its resolution 1907 (2009), the Security Council demanded that Eritrea make available information pertaining to Djiboutian combatants missing in action since the border clashes of 10 to 12 June 2008 between the two countries, so that those concerned might ascertain the presence and condition of Djiboutian prisoners of war.
In its 2011 report (S/2011/433), the Monitoring Group took note of Eritrea’s refusal to discuss the matter of 19 Djiboutian military personnel reported missing in action and believed by the Djiboutian authorities to be held in Eritrea as prisoners of war.
On 16 September 2011, two Djiboutian prisoners of war, Privates First Class Ahmed Eeleeye Yaabe and Khadir Sumbul Ali escaped from an Eritrean prison. On 6 October 2011, the Permanent Representative of Djibouti to the United Nations addressed a letter to the Secretary-General informing him of the escaped individuals, while noting that the Government of Eritrea had denied detaining any Djiboutian prisoners of war (S/2011/617). Subsequently, in its 2012 report (S/2012/545), the Monitoring Group confirmed that Eritrean authorities had indeed been holding Djiboutian military personnel and that at least five prisoners of war were known to be still alive at the time.
Furthermore, the Monitoring Group recommended (in S/2012/545, para. 137) that the Government of Eritrea should immediately provide all available information relating to the status of Djiboutian prisoners of war in its custody or Djiboutian military personnel reported missing in action following the hostilities of June 2008. However, a member of the Committee placed a hold on a draft letter drawing the attention of the Permanent Representative of Eritrea to this recommendation.
The Monitoring Group continues to note the lack of any progress on article 3, concerning prisoners of war, of the Comprehensive Agreement signed on 6 June 2010 by Djibouti and Eritrea under the auspices of the Government of the State of Qatar. On 22 April 2014, at a meeting between the Monitoring Group and the Embassy of Djibouti in Doha, Djiboutian officials informed the Group that there were still 17 Djiboutians being held by Eritrea. They added that Djibouti was prepared to move forward with the mediation process under Qatari auspices, which they described as “frozen”. In addition, well-informed sources with contacts within the Qatari and Djiboutian leaderships informed the Monitoring Group that the mediation process had stalled.
The Government of Eritrea has yet to acknowledge that it holds Djiboutian combatants, or to provide information on their current condition.
Despite the make-believe narrative of the Press Statement, the regime in Eritrea knows that no one buys its stories anymore. It also knows that the Ethiopian and Djibouti meeting was not primarily focused on Eritrea.
Instead, the 15 points Joint Communique of Ethiopia and Djibouti highlighted the achievements of the historic meeting of the two sisterly countries, including:
- The signing of Border Trade Protocol, Agreement on Passenger Road Transport Services, Protocol on Mega Gas Project, Protocol on Mineral Resources and Protocol on Power Supply to Ethio-Djibouti Railway.
- The decision that the Joint Ministerial Commission be held on monthly basis which the co-chairmanship of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Republic of Djibouti and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.
- An expression of the two leaders' commitment to contribute to the prevalence of peace and security in the whole region and to assist the people of South Sudan in their effort to bring peace and stability in their country.
- Their condemnation the heinous terrorist attacks in Djibouti, Kenya, and Somalia and in the countries of the sub-region perpetrated by Al-Shabab and their commitment to combat this criminal act in all its forms and manifestations.
- A declaration that the two leaders recommitment to revitalize IGAD to speed up the regional integration process and their determination to coordinate their efforts to this end.
- Their support to the Federal Government of Somalia and underlined the urgent need for concrete assistance to the Government in all areas so that the process of peace building would be irreversible.
Indeed, all these affect the regime in Eritrea as it is the sponsor and master-mind of most of acts of instability in the region, by arming, training and equipping armed groups and their members to destabilize the region or incite violence and civil strife in Ethiopia, Djibouti and beyond.
Therefore, the latest jabber from Asmara is nothing but a knee-jerk reaction to the mere fact that the two countries and the region in general has started to move beyond instability and conflict, and embarked on a path of mutual cooperation and economic integration.
Unfortunately, the regime in Eritrea has yet to summon the courage to part with its old ways and become part of the region's future.