Monday, July 12, 2010

Eritrea Contradicts the UN Secretary General’s interpretation of its position on Somalia

Source: A Week in the Horn (09.07.2010) Ministry of Foreign Affairs - Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia

We have for a few weeks now been commenting that Eritrea’s so-called renewed good faith should be taken with a pinch of salt coming—needless to say—as it does from a leadership that has an almost visceral aversion to normal behavior such as peaceful coexistence with its neighbors. The peace agreement with Djibouti—while a very welcome development—was shrouded with mystery especially as there has been literally no indication on the part of Eritrea’s leaders that there indeed was such an agreement signed and/or if indeed that amounted to an acknowledgement of at least the existence of a crisis between the two countries. The international community’s response to the agreement was one of optimism which made it all the more curious if indeed there was reason enough to warrant the level of enthusiasm it displayed.

In this regard, the United Nations’ Secretary General’s rather optimistic remarks about change of behavior on the part of the leadership in Asmara were particularly interesting in more ways than one. For one thing, despite the Secretary General’s optimism towards the agreement, Eritrea’s leaders has yet to formally acknowledge there indeed was an agreement which they signed. After all, this agreement pertained to an issue his organization and more particularly the UNSC have been seized with for quite sometime and on which two resolutions had already been passed by the Council. It was an open secret—and still is—that the regime in Asmara was denying that there was such a conflict in the first place, much less meet the demands set forth in Resolution 1907. But more importantly, the agreement would still fall short of meeting the other two demands that were clearly specified in the Resolution—namely, refraining from supporting terrorists in Somalia and desisting from its destabilizing activities in the region.

As indicated in previous issues of Week in the Horn, it would not be altogether surprising for the UN Secretary General—or any member of the international Community for that matter—to welcome any signs of improving behavior from a repeat offender such as the regime in Asmara has always been with a modicum of optimism even if the details are far from clear. But as we also indicated a couple of times before, such developments should be looked at with a healthy amount of skepticism. The behavior of the leaders of Eritrea is not all that reassuring. Let’s take for instance what UN Secretary General had to say with regard to what he apparently believed was an encouraging change of behavior on the part of Eritrea’s leaders with regard to their position on Somalia. He remarked in his recent report that the participation of Eritrean officials in the Istanbul conference and some of the overtures they displayed there amounted to their willingness, among other things, to recognize, and work with, the TFG as the only legitimate authority in Somalia. Whatever may have led him to such overly optimistic conclusion was not the least shared by the regime in Asmara. As the UN representative for Eritrea made it clear in his recent letter to the UNSC, the Secretary General’s interpretation was never what Eritrea’s leaders intended to convey in Istanbul. In a letter dated June 30, 2010 and addressed to the president of the Security Council, while acknowledging that Eritrea “participated in the Istanbul conference with the gracious invitation extended to it by the Government of Turkey and the United Nations” the Eritrean Ambassador, however, stated that “it would not be appropriate to attribute other interpretations to Eritrea’s participation.”

Clearly, Eritrea did not take the Secretary General’s all too optimistic interpretation all too well. This may sound a bit overstated; but Eritrean officials’ very recent behavior has gone even further. In fact, Eritrea has once again submitted what it had earlier submitted in Istanbul to the Security Council by way—as it were—of clarification that it has not in fact changed its position on Somalia. In its submission, it regurgitates its usual diatribe against the rest of the world for what it claims is an egregious failure of responsibility on Somalia. It once again makes a litany of allegations against the US, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya and even the United Nations for causing or exacerbating the crisis in Somalia. Of course, Eritrea is nowhere listed among the nations which are alleged to have played a negative role in creating havoc in Somalia one way or another. It would be all too naïve to expect Eritrean leaders to admit that they were indeed a significant part of the problem. But what Eritrea’s in-your face attitude shows is that no amount of coddling by the international community is going to soften its heart once it has made up its mind about one thing. What this also tells us is that whatever declarations might be made by third parties regarding Eritrea’s alleged good faith; reason would demand that words be matched by deeds. But doing this has never been Eritrea’s leaders’ strong point. It would therefore be foolhardy for any serious-minded people to fall for Eritrea’s leaders’ cheap tricks.