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Eritrea's Regional Relations

Eritrea's Regional Relations

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Published by dhshinn5947
Analyzes Eritrea's relations with countries in East Africa and the Horn.
Analyzes Eritrea's relations with countries in East Africa and the Horn.

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: dhshinn5947 on Aug 17, 2012
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1EritreaMeridian International CenterWashington, D.C.16 August 2012Panel on
Eritrea’s Regional Relations
 David H. ShinnAdjunct Professor, Elliott School of International AffairsGeorge Washington UniversityThe other panelist focused on Ethiopia-Eritrea relations; I will concentrate on
Eritrea’s
relations with regional organizations and other countries in the region. By way of background, itis important to recall that the UN Security Council in December 2009 imposed an arms embargo,severe travel restrictions, and an asset freeze on Eritrean political and military leaders because of 
Eritrea’s support for extremist groups in Somalia
. This step helped solidify the growing politicalisolation of Eritrea.African UnionEritrea has long considered the African Union as a tool of Ethiopia and treated itaccordingly. Following the outbreak of war between Ethiopia and Eritrea in 1998 and theclosure of the Eritrean embassy in Addis Ababa, Eritrea no longer had a representative to interactroutinely with the African Union in Addis Ababa. Girma Asmerom was the last Eritreanambassador to Ethiopia and the African Union; he left in 1998.Eritrea decided in 2011 that it needed to counter the regional diplomatic isolation that ithas experienced since the outbreak of conflict with Ethiopia. As part of this concerted effort toreengage in the region, it assigned Girma Asmerom, who doing the interregnum had served as
Eritrean ambassador to the United States, as Eritrea’s ambassador to the African Union
, residentin Addis Ababa. This was one of its first steps to end political isolation.Intergovernmental Authority on DevelopmentEritrea pulled out of the Djibouti-based Intergovernmental Authority on Development(IGAD) in 2007 after IGAD backed Ethiopia
’s military intervention in Somalia.
IGADsubsequently called for tough sanctions against Eritrea for its role in destabilizing the region. In
 
2mid-2011, Eritrea made a formal application to rejoin IGAD. IGAD is giving the request a
“slow roll
.
While Eritrea has not yet been readmitted to IGAD, this is another effort to end itsisolation.SomaliaThere is strong evidence that Eritrea once provided support for extremist groups inSomalia that oppose the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and its Ethiopian ally.Somalia effectively became a proxy war for Eritrea against Ethiopia. Earlier reports by the UNMonitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea document this involvement. The 2011 UN report evenalleged that Eritrea was behind a failed plot early in 2011 to bomb targets in Addis Ababa tocoincide with the 16
th
Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union. The report addedthat Eritrea bankrolled known members of al-Shabaab in Kenya and was involved in smugglingweapons through Sudan and Egypt.The most recent UN report came out in July 2012. It is surprising in that it has so little to
say about Eritrea’s involvement in Somalia.
It concludes that the relative importance of Eritreaas a source of military and financial support for armed groups appears to have declined. TheMonitoring Group found no evidence that Eritrea supplied al-Shabaab with arms andammunition by air in October and November 2011. (It is not clear why these months arementioned and the rest of the year is not discussed.)The report did state that Eritrea maintains relations with known arms dealers in Somaliaand violated the arms embargo during the course of the mandate through its support forEthiopian armed opposition groups passing through Somali territory. The Monitoring Group
attributed Eritrea’s diminished engagement in Somalia to enhanced international scrutiny of Eritrea’s actions in Somalia and the region, growing friction in Eritrea’s relationship with al
-Shabaab, and the absence of other viable armed opposition groups.Sanctions against Eritrea have apparently had an impact and Eritrea has learned likeeveryone else that the Somalis are very difficult to coopt. Eritrea was not getting a good returnon its investment in Somalia. Coupled with its desire to improve relations with other countries inthe region, it decided to reduce significantly support for groups in Somalia that oppose the TFGand even pull back support for anti-Ethiopian Somali groups active in
Ethiopia’s
Somali Region.Eritrea is much more circumspect about funding dissident organizations. It reportedly no longeruses diplomatic representatives for this purpose but rather uses opaque financing through privateintermediaries.DjiboutiDjibouti and Eritrea have a recent history of animosity. The two countries nearly went towar in April 1996 when a Djiboutian official claimed that Eritrea shelled a border village. In1998-1999, Eritrea accused Djibouti of allowing Ethiopia to use its port for importing military
 
3equipment during the Ethiopia-Eritrea war, an allegation which is probably accurate. The twocountries then restored relations in 2001 with the help of Libyan President Qadhafi.Early in 2008, Eritrea began preparing military positions along its border with Djibouti.
By May, Djibouti’s president said the two armies are facing each other and described thesituation as “explosive.”
Fighting along the border broke out in June. Djibouti severed relationswith Eritrea in November. Eritrea dismissed any argument that it had attacked or that a clash hadeven taken place and rejected all efforts at mediation. Nor is there any official complaint fromEritrea about a border claim against Djibouti.Eritrea probably initiated this incident out of unhappiness over
Djibouti’s close ties with
Ethiopia and possibly frustration that the port of Djibouti was booming while Assab was stagnantand Massawa operating well below capacity. Djibouti and Eritrea subsequently exchangedambassadors again, but Djibouti remains wary about its Eritrean neighbor.
Djibouti’s minister of 
economy, finance and planning commented this July in London that while the conflict in
Somalia is of great concern “the conflict in Eritrea has a much bigger potential to destabilize
Djibouti and the wh
ole region.”
He added that he looks forward to the day that Djibouti does nothave to pay large sums to have its military stationed on the border with Eritrea. This is moneythat could be used for poverty alleviation instead.South SudanEritrea was a strong supporter of the
Sudan People’s Liberation Movement
(SPLM)during the 1990s. Juba has never forgotten this help.
Sudan’s now defunct opposition National
Democratic Alliance, of which the SPLM was a member, once had its headquarters in Asmara.Following the 1998 outbreak of war between Eritrea and Ethiopia, Eritrea began to improve tieswith Khartoum. Improvement of ties with Khartoum and the death of John Garang in 2005resulted in a cooling of relations with the SPLM, but Eritrea always kept the channels open to theSPLM.A senior South Sudan delegation visited Asmara in March 2011 when it discussed futurecooperation. A second senior delegation arrived a few months later. President Isaias represented
Eritrea at South Sudan’s independence in July
2011, when he also met with UN SecretaryGeneral Ban Ki-moon in Juba. South Sudan is playing a role in breaking the political isolationof Eritrea.SudanEritrea has since independence in 1993 had a volatile relationship with Khartoum.Throughout most of the 1990s, Eritrea strongly supported the SPLM and maintained a hostilepolicy towards Khartoum. Until 1998, Eritrea (together with Ethiopia and Uganda) was part of the so-called US-
led “front
-
line states” policy aimed at putting military pressure on S
udan. This

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