Ethiopia remains committed to engage with Eritrea for lasting peace

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The European Union High Representative and Vice-President of the European Commission, Ms. Federica Mogherini, said last week that the EU was ready to support the settlement of the border dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea. In a press statement, issued on April 13, she said: “The EU encourages all concrete steps that could lead to finally demarcating the border in accordance with the EEBC decision and to move to a phase of building constructive and peaceful relations… the EU stands ready to support the process and any measures that will create conditions for a mutually beneficial relationship between Eritrea and Ethiopia in the future.”

Ethiopia welcomes this commitment of the European Union to support full implementation of the provisions of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission’s Decisions of April 13, 2002.  Ethiopia had repeatedly reiterated its readiness for peace and called time and again for dialogue to restore ties and normalize relations with Eritrea. The regime in Asmara has shown no sign of interest either in these efforts or in a number of initiatives by different countries and eminent personalities. All have, regrettably fallen on deaf ears.

Ethiopia, despite the serious flaws in the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission’s Decisions, fully accepted the Decisions as final and binding. By contrast, Eritrea, after much interference in the activities of the UN Peacekeeping forces of the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE), finally restricted the Mission’s fuel supplies in January 2008, seized much of the Mission’s equipment and finally ordered the troops to leave Eritrea a month later. This erratic behavior in direct violation of the Algiers Agreement, rendering it null and void, was enough reason for Ethiopia to invoke the comprehensive peace agreement and binding arbitration that the two parties agreed to on June 18, 2000. However, Ethiopia determined to honor the commitment of the parties to the peace process, still appeals to the full implementation of the Algiers agreement. Ethiopia, the victim of Eritrean aggression in 1998 wants dialogue and engagement to implement the EEBC decision. This is the minimum the victim of aggression can expect; this is minimum the aggressor, Eritrea, should provide and without preconditions.

In fact, the need for dialogue is written into the Ethiopian-Eritrean Boundary Commission’s decisions. The Commission, for example, clearly indicated under Article 2.16 of its decision that “these coordinates are not necessarily final and the commission may have to adjust or vary them in the course of demarcation. Only the final demarcation map will be definitive”. This demonstrates clearly that the coordinates used for the “virtual demarcation” that the EEBC issued in November 2006, could not be final. Article 2.19 stated that “the tripoint at the eastern end has never been agreed” by the parties; Article 2.20 of the decision informed the international community that, the boundaries laid down in the Treaties (1900, 1902 and 1908 of the West, Central and Eastern borders respectively) had never been implemented by demarcation. These points alone underlined the necessity for dialogue on demarcation irrespective of the need for discussions on other issues. .

Article 16 of the Algiers Agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea forecast that “Recognizing that the results of the delimitation and demarcation process are not yet known, the parties request the United Nations to facilitate resolution of problems which may arise due to the transfer of territorial control, including the consequences for individuals residing in previously disputed territory”. The border issues cannot, of course, be reduced to demarcation alone. Far more important is the question of long-lasting peace and stability among and between the peoples on both sides of the border. The anomalies and impracticalities of the virtual delimitation of the EEBC can only be resolved through dialogue. This is normal international practice. Others including Cameroon and Nigeria, and Russia and China, have shown that final border demarcation should come after normalization. This is a prerequisite for a sustainable relationship between Ethiopia and Eritrea, and for lasting peace in the region.

Ethiopia prepared all the legal and administrative procedures for the independence of Eritrea.  Ethiopia was the first country to recognize the legitimacy of the new State of Eritrea. It never had a plausible reason to get into a quarrel over a small piece of land in the border area. Ethiopia’s concerns have always been the lasting relationship between the two peoples. Ethiopia does not believe making the Eritrean people hostage in the name of ‘border conflict’ should be allowed to benefit the Eritrean Regime. The Eritrean Government’s continual refusal to come to the negotiating table and the resultant ‘no war no peace’ situation between the two countries, has created unbearable conditions for the Eritrean people. There are more than 170 thousand Eritreans sheltering in refugee camps in Ethiopia. Eritrea is ranked 3rd in the list of countries from which refugees enter Europe, after Syria and Afghanistan, both war-torn countries. Eritrea has no such excuse.

This situation has continued for far too long. Ethiopia appreciates the expressed support from the EU and other partners for normalization of its relations with Eritrea, but it feels that it is now high time to push the regime in Asmara to come to the negotiating table.

Asmara, while continuing to show no interest to making peace with its neighbors, has recently started to implement a two-pronged approach in its foreign policy: aiming to ease the sanctions’ regime and win international sympathy. It has been trying to convince the international community that it has changed its behavior and that it is being unfairly penalized by the UN Security Council and the major powers. It has argued that the sanctions are unfair particularly against a very poor and small country like Eritrea. This is intended to persuade the Security Council to moderate the sanctions without having to make any substantive move to address the concerns of the sub-region and the reasons for the imposition of sanctions in the first place. The semi-implementation of the sanctions couples with the severe economic situation in Eritrea, and perhaps reduced the capacity of the regime to destabilize the Horn Africa. It has not affected its intention to continue to do so.

Eritrea, in fact, has made no behavioral changes in its approach to its neighbors. The regime has continued to destabilize countries of the region, providing financial, military, intelligence and non- military assistance, including at various times the provision of training centers, camps and other similar facilities for armed groups such as Al-Shabaab and Arbegnoch Ginbot 7, as well as issuing travel documents, offering living expenses and travel facilities in a discrete manner. If a lasting peace and stability is to come about in the Horn of African, partner countries must push the regime in Asmara to show a real change, including the dismantling of training camps and ending financial and other logistical support. Eritrea must, in fact, refrain from destabilizing the region by supporting armed groups such as Al-Shabaab and Arbegnoch G7.

Last week, the UN Security Council discussed the Somalia Eritrea Sanctions Committee report. The Chair of the Security Council Committee, Kazakhstan, has presented its report covering the period from November 2016 to February 2017 to the Council.

Ambassador Kirat Umarov’s briefing focused on the activities of the Committee and on the assessment of recent developments based on the latest reports of the Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group. On Somalia, the chair underlined that AI-Shabaab remains the most significant threat to peace and security in Somalia while ISIL continues to maintain a presence in port town of Qandala mountainside. In light of the on-going drought, the chair noted that uncontrolled humanitarian assistance can result in additional threats to the peace, security and stability of Somalia. He told council members about the threat to peace and security posed by the illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in the country.

Turning to Eritrea, the report indicated that the monitoring Group is conducting ongoing investigations on the support by Eritrea to armed groups in the region as well as on the potential breaches of the arms embargo. The chair also highlighted that the Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group (SEMG) continues to seek clarification on the whereabouts and the situation of the remaining combatants missing in action since the Djibouti/Eritrea border clashes of 2008.

Following the chair’s presentation, Council members discussed on the report, and in their remarks alluded Al-Shabaab as the biggest threat to peace and security in the region. While Council members took note of the SEMG’s report that there was no conclusive evidence of Eritrean support to Al-Shabaab in the last consecutive reports, they underlined the need for Eritrea to cooperate with the SEMG in such score, and urged the Government of Eritrea to comply with its international obligation, including compliance with the Chapter VII resolutions of the Security Council.

Noting that the report is useful and very well balanced and stressing the significance of the Somalia-Eritrea Sanctions regime for regional peace and security in the horn of Africa, Ambassador Tekeda emphasized on the importance of the full and effective implementation of the sanction. “It is in this context that we appreciate the Committee for holding the briefing session with representatives of IGAD on transnational terrorist threats in the region,” he added. As such briefings have a lot of relevance to the work of the Committee he encouraged the Chair of the Sanction Committee to continue this good practice, in line with its mandate, and create a better understanding of the challenges and threats facing the region.

Although Al-Shabab’s conventional capabilities have been significantly weakened, the Ambassador said the group remains to be a potent force capable of launching asymmetrical attacks. He also noted the possibility of the group to forge links with ISIL/Daesh and expressed his concern on the enormous implications it would pose on the peace and stability of the region. He said, this certainly entailed the need to establish a close follow up into its activities. Welcoming the appointment of the new members of the Monitoring Group, the Ambassador expressed Ethiopia’s readiness to cooperate with the Group, mindful of the importance of cooperation in the pursuit of gathering relevant and quality of information from countries of the region and beyond. He also reiterated the importance of the cooperation of both Somalia and Eritrea as well as countries of the region in facilitating the work of the Monitoring Group and indeed the Sanctions Committee.

“In light of reports of possible violations of the arms embargo, in particular,” Ambassador Tekeda added, “we will wait the Monitoring Group to inform us of the outcome of its investigation in its mid-term report.” In such light, he stressed on the importance of forging the necessary horizontal cooperation with other Panel of Experts in the process of investigating reports of possible violations.

While appreciating the willingness on the part of the Federal and regional governments in Somalia to cooperate with the Monitoring Group, Ambassador Tekeda urged the “Eritrean government to render the necessary cooperation to the Monitoring Group and the Sanctions Committee based on its obligations in line with the relevant Security Council resolutions.” In this regard, he noted the Monitoring Group’s call on Eritrea to clarify “the situation of the remaining soldiers identified by Djibouti as still missing in action as a result of the conflict in June 2008 in line with its treaty obligations and as directed by this Council.”

Ambassador Tekeda, took note of the intention of the Chair to undertake a visit to the region, adding that while this was long overdue it would certainly add up to a better appreciation of the regional dynamics. He expressed his hope that the visit would take place in accordance with existing practices and made it clear that “putting preconditions on the visit to enlist concessions from the Council should by no means be entertained as it sets a dangerous precedent.” He said, “Among other things, it would allow him to appreciate the existing hubris ad arrogance that has been so much a problem in our region, but behind a veneer of victimhood, which can deceive many. That is the context within which the issue of the boundary demarcation should be looked at since seen with other matters it very much pales by comparison, for limitation having been completed what remains is demarcation regarding which Ethiopia cannot be expected to clap with one hand.”

While expressing his confidence on the Chair, the Ambassador however said, “given the geopolitical situation in our region this matter as well as the issue of sanctions can easily be politicized.” He further said he would not feel that the link between Eritrea and Al-Shabaab has conclusively been proven to be non-existent, adding: “given the mortal danger, Al-Shabaab represents, this is not a joke; [and] it is a serious matter.”

Permanent Representative of Djibouti, Ambassador Mohamed Siad Doualeh, also shared the Chair’s assessment that Al-Shabab continues to pose a serious threat to the peace and security in Somalia, calling for the surge in troops as well as logistical support to “decisively degrade and defeat Al-Shabab.” Eritrea, he said, has deliberately continued to obstruct the work of the Monitoring Group, noting that: “Eritrea cynically seeks to be rewarded for its defiance of Security Council’s resolutions.” The Ambassador also told the Council that his country had already shared the SEMG, a credible and verifiable evidence, which he said showcased Eritrea’s continued support to Al-Shabab, and thus called on the Monitoring Group to make the necessary investigations. He also urged Eritrea to clarify the situation of the unaccounted thirteen remaining Djibouti Prisoners of War, and to implement, in good faith, the peace agreement mediated by Qatar. The Ambassador further said Eritrea has continued to harbor, train, equip and provide logistical support to armed groups seeking to overthrow and destabilize the Government of Djibouti, in violation of Article 2 of the UN Charter.

Source: A Week in the Horn

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