Eritrea is an easy target for Ethiopia

Ethiopian troops in central Eritrea

The isolated, friendless regime of Isaias Afwerki will find few international protectors against Ethiopia’s military incursion.

Simon Tisdall

Ethiopia’s military incursion into neighbouring Eritrea, reinforced by weekend follow-up attacks, has received remarkably little international attention – and no outright condemnation, in the west at least. Britain said it was “deeply concerned” but declined to censure Addis Ababa. The US piously urged “restraint”. Eritrea’s demand that the UN security council punish Ethiopia has been met by deafening silence.

Such insouciance over an unprovoked assault by one sovereign state on another would be hard to imagine if, say, Argentina sent troops back to the Falklands, or Russia decided to finish the job in Georgia. But the isolated, friendless Eritrean regime of President Isaias Afwerki, the subject of UN and regional sanctions, is an easy target. And Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia’s prime minister, is a key US “war on terror” ally. Hence the diplomatic silence (which Eritrea interprets as connivance).

Isaias Afwerki is a piece of work, as Americans say. Cables sent from the US embassy in Eritrea’s capital, Asmara, by the then American ambassador, Ronald McMullen, and first published by WikiLeaks and the Guardian in December 2010, described the country Isaias has run with an iron fist since independence from Ethiopia in 1993 as a basket case: “Young Eritreans are fleeing their country in droves, the economy appears to be in a death spiral, Eritrea’s prisons are overflowing, and the country’s unhinged dictator remains cruel and defiant,” McMullen wrote. “The Isaias regime is very good at controlling nearly all aspects of Eritrean society.”

But it is the regime’s malign meddling in its neighbours’ affairs, not its ruinous domestic record, that has incurred most western opprobrium. Asmara stands accused of backing the al-Qaida-affiliated Islamist militants of al-Shabaab in Somalia, supporting anti-western or insurgent groups in Djibouti, Uganda and Sudan, and giving safe haven to Ethiopian rebels – the stated reason for last week’s Ethiopian ground incursion. Asmara denies all the allegations.

An outspoken report by the UN monitoring group on Somalia and Eritrea concluded that:

“Both countries, in very different ways, serve 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 …

Asmara’s continuing relationship with al-Shabaab appears designed to legitimise and embolden the group rather than to curb its extremist orientation or encourage its participation in a political process. Moreover, 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.”

The UN report said Eritrea’s behaviour should be viewed in the context of its unresolved border dispute with Ethiopia, a legacy of the 1998-2000 war between the two countries, and the resulting insecurity felt in Asmara about its giant neighbour’s intentions. But it also said:

“[Eritrea’s support for groups such as al-Shabaab] is also symptomatic, however, of the systematic subversion of the government of Eritrea and party institutions by a relatively small number of political, military and intelligence officials, who instead choose to conduct the affairs of state via informal and often illicit mechanisms, including people smuggling, arms trafficking, money-laundering and extortion.

“Such irregular financial practices, combined with direct financial contributions from ruling party supporters and some foreign states … help to explain how a country as poor as Eritrea manages to sustain support for a variety of armed opposition groups across the region. From 2011 onwards, Eritrea’s newly emerging mining sector – especially gold – is likely to become the country’s principal source of hard currency.”

These damning conclusions included assertions that Eritrea plotted bomb attacks in Addis Ababa at the time of the 2011 African Union summit. Taken as a whole, they led directly to a new round of UN sanctions on Eritrea, agreed by the security council in December, that included new constraints on international mining companies.

The latest US state department human rights report makes life in Eritrea sound like hell on earth – an impression a brief visit in 2008 did little to dispel. It said:

“Human rights abuses included abridgement of citizens’ right to change their government through a democratic process; unlawful killings by security forces; torture and beating of prisoners, sometimes resulting in death; abuse and torture of national service evaders; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention …

There is no due process and persons remain in jail for years. The government severely restricted freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, and religion. The government also limited freedom of movement and travel for all citizens.”

Coincidentally or not, these findings were broadly endorsed last week by a joint statement by more than 40 countries to the UN human rights council. Ethiopia’s Meles, who had already expressed support for regime change in Asmara, was doubtless emboldened by this further confirmation of Eritrea’s pariah status. Last week’s incursion followed swiftly.

It is hard to make a case in defence of the Eritrean regime. Recent reports suggest its al-Shabaab allies in Somalia, under pressure from Kenyan and Ethiopian forces in the south, are shifting their operations northwards into semi-autonomous Puntland while mounting terror attacks in Nairobi and seeking links with like-minded elements in Yemen. Seen this way, Eritrea is fuelling a spreading regional war.

All the same, invading other people’s countries, however objectionable their behaviour, is wrong in principle and usually ill-advised in practice. While Eritrea says it does not want another war with Ethiopia, it can be expected, on past practice, to hit back covertly in unconventional and asymmetric ways. And thus the downward spiral accelerates.

TheGuardian

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Comments

Eritrea is an easy target for Ethiopia — 55 Comments

  1. Sam, any dictator has his own supporters and Dergue was not any exception. Shabia, no better than the Dergue, has also hundreds of supporters, you yourself included. Isaia is bleeding Eritrea and the whole region. but you are trying to describe shabia as a force of development. Are you serious? Isais vocabulary is full of attack, terror, grnade, AK47 etc… than developmental issues like trade and investment
    Selam Nkulena

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    • pardon me “Gebre”….if i may ask, your name denotes some thing peculiar i read few years ago at awate.com, something like SHIFTA GEBRE, are you by any chance related
      to, or is this a noun or a verb… the story as narrated by one of the writers at awate
      was a long story connected to this “gebre” thing…

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    • GEBRE AGAME!!!!!ZEYTMHRENA.NAY ADIKA ZEYTGEBR GIDA.ABZKONE NEGER TOBLOQ TOBLOQ TIBL ABZEY GUDAYKA.BAHRKOM KEMOU DAAYUBER.ABZI SRAH LISTRO YABLNAN.DEKI ADIKA BHMAM YKUSTERO ALEWU NATOM GIBER.EMBER ERITREAS TIMALI ANNABS LOMIWN ANNABS.ERITREA LOMI SUQ NI ETHIOPIA WEY TEHALEQTI WEY AGEDA SILE ZELEWA FERIHA KAEYMESLEK.ATI ANBESSA ANTELAILU GIN WETEHADERAT WOYANE BHAFESH ETHIOPIA KEM KEBTI KEBKIBU KABTI KEBABI ZEYKONES ADDIS ABEBA ANTEKONET WIHSNET YEBLAN.ANTAYMO HIGI ALEM HAYLU EMBER NATKUMS KELIL EU NEYRU.ATI KEDEM AKA KAB 50 SHIH ZEYBEZHU NERITREA TIRAY ZEYKONE NETHIOPIA NATSA AAWTSIOOM.LOMI GIDA LIALI 8 MIATI SHIH ANBESSA SORAWIT.BIAYNET WIN ANTEKONE.KEMTI JELGAF WETAHADER ETHIOPIA AYKONEN.ABZI ATIKA AYTEDENAGR OK!!!

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  2. A sane leader is one who tries to be at peace with the world at large and with its neighbours in particular. How do we view a leader who creates enemity with all the world? Worse, it shelved aside the people of eritrea. I can not find any standard of measurement for this. Neither on the side of its people, nor neighbouring countries, nor the world community. He is probably thinking of doing some miracles that others have failed in. Isaias needs to take a history course so as to analyze the outcome of his policies. The country might have advanced more than the rest of the neighbouring countries even with incapable leadership. But Isaias does not lack leadership qualities, rather it seems that what he is doing a deliberate move to destroy the fabric of the society, to make the people less confident on themselves, what else ….?

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  3. PART 2…ናይ ኢሳያስ ክቱር ጽልኢ ዘለዎምእምበር, ብፍቕሪ ህዝቢ ተደሪኾም ዝቃወሙ ስለ ዘይኮኑ,..ወያነ , ጋኔን ኣውጺኡ እንድሕር ብድያብሎስ ዝትካእ ኮይኑ,ህዝቢ ኣብ ክትግምቶ ዘሸግር ዓዘቕቲ ክኣቱ እዩ ማለትዩ,by the way መንግስቲ ኢትዮጵያ ብጉዳዩ እምበር ,ናይ ማንም ተወካሊ ኮይኑ ስጉምቲ ኣይወሰደን ። መታን ኤርትራ ፋሕ ጭንግራሕ ከይኣትዋ,ተካኢ ሓይሊ ኣብ መቐለ,ሃዋሳ ኣኪቡ.። ብላሽ ምዃኖም ምስርኣየ ድማ ,ዝመስሎ, ምጡን ስጉምቲ ወሲዱ ። ግን ሕጂ ኢትዮጵያ ይኹን ኣሜሪካ ዘይትዓግቶ ሙሉእ ኵናት ክፍጠር ይኽእልዩ።ልዕሊ ኩሉ ህዝቢ ኤርትራ እዩ ዝግድሰኒ።ግን ንወያነ ኣይወቕሶምን’የ.ኣሸበርቲ እናኣሸገርዎም ..ንመንግስቲ ኤርትራ ‘ውን ኣይወቕሶን እየ.ምኽንያቱ ኣብ በረኻ ከሎ’ውን ኩሉዋሒድ ተግባር ስለ ዘለዎ.

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  4. Allah is great and we muslims hope that this evil man goes down so we can have sharia law in the contry. Is time for change and wayne are our best friend right now let us get together and bring free in our country. This time is our last chans. Jihhad is the only way

    Salem alekum

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    • Go and tell that to ALSHEBAB we didn’t fight for that you stupit low life moran.

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      • X-Tegagalay- Be carefull from such sick dogs in our web-site.
        Do you know what it means -WELA’E NAR-( hawi zeneded).
        We have people in here JASUSAT with agenda commenting using different names to corrupt the forum. To proof you, see how he said instead SELAM WO-ALEYKUM.
        May be he is the same person who try to confuse readers using a name ahamed saleh with his ill-willed comments. That is why some – times you get suspicious to their identity.
        I am 100% sure, he is one of those commentators with his own issues.

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        • Some cowards are exploiting the freedom of speech in this
          forum. They can not understand democracy but they prefer
          to be governed by a stick ( BETRI) like animals.

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        • Thanks brother this moran is not evin Muslim we don’t have this caind mentality in Eritrea. This is HIGDEF gob to make as fight each ather and to forget the most important things. So ignore this DIABETICS HEAD HIGDEF.

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