Military and Security Implications of the Somalia-Eritrea Monitoring Group Report
As a former military officer, I was perplexed to read the Somalia-Eritrea Monitoring Group Report. For a moment I thought I was reading a military intelligence analysis. Clearly, the authors of the report missed their assigned mandate and task and are bent on condemning Eritrea by any means possible. This report is not fit to be included in the UN records.
Even though the UN Security Council has clearly “reaffirmed its respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence and unity of Eritrea”, the Somalia-Eritrea Monitoring Group is performing activities which are outside these commitments and basic tenets of international law. The Monitoring Group has been actively engaged in tarnishing the image of the Eritrean government and its people. The latest report, July 2012, contains analysis of Eritrea’s military capability and location of military bases and facilities. Such report is clearly outside the mandate of the group and falls within the realm of espionage and analysis of military intelligence.
Even though the act of sanctioning Eritrea itself is unjust, and politically motivated railroading of a country by some quarters, the Monitoring Group’s mandate according to the UNSC resolution 1907 (2009) and 2002 (2011) is specific and clear. It is set up to monitor whether or not Eritrea:-
A. is giving financial and military support to Al-Shebab in Somalia
B. has withdrawn its forces to the status quo ante from the disputed border with Djibouti.
The Monitoring Group was never mandated to assess the
A. military strength and capability of the Eritrean government
B. origin and implication of the Eritrea-Ethiopia border conflict, or to assess which party is actively engaged to weaken, destabilize, and overthrow the other party
C. financial structure and system of Eritrea as well as the financial sources of its development activities
D. role of the Eritrean Diaspora in the national economic development program
E. plight of Eritreans trying to cross the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt
On the main causes of the sanctions Eritrea comes out clean and is in full compliance. The Monitoring Group’s report affirms that there is no indication that Eritrea is providing support to the Al-Shebab and that the border dispute with Djibouti is being effectively handled through the good offices of Qatar. The logical outcome of such report should have been the lifting of the unjust and illegal sanctions. Yet the Group decided to make work for itself by going outside its mandate and dealing with red herrings. The report could have been dismissed as shoddy work and irrelevant if it did not have serious implications on issues of war and peace and was financed by the UN. In the relations between Eritrea and Ethiopia the UN Monitoring Group’s report amounts to lighting a match near a tinder box.
Technically, Eritrea is at war with Ethiopia. Sovereign Eritrean territory, including the town of Badme, which was presented as the casus belli by Ethiopia, has been under Ethiopian military occupation for the last eleven years. This occupation of sovereign Eritrean territory by Ethiopia has been going on despite the final and binding delimitation and demarcation decisions of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Border Commission in 2002 and 2007 respectively, based on the Algiers Agreement of 2000. More than 400,000 troops from both sides are deployed across the border between the two countries. Ethiopia is constantly provoking and publicly testing the military strength and capability of Eritrea. The latest military incursion and aggression carried out by Ethiopia 18 kilometers inside Eritrea, according to pubic admission by Ethiopian officials, is a case in point. It should also be underlined that Ethiopia has officially declared that it will do whatever is necessary to change the regime in Eritrea. Under these circumstances, the Monitoring Group’s report supported by satellite pictures and detailed analysis of strengths and capabilities, in particular that of the Eritrean Air Force, is not only a violation of its mandate, but a crime against the government and people of Eritrea. Using UN funding and technical resources, it has delivered valuable military intelligence to the Ethiopian government on a silver platter. By its action and deliberations, the Monitoring Group has violated its mandate and compromised its integrity and neutrality and has become an intelligence arm of the Ethiopian government. In this role, it has exposed and compromised Eritrea’s defense capability to all existing and potential enemies.
The Monitoring Group also violated its mandate by dwelling on the idea that “Eritrea is supporting anti-government groups and forces such as the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) in Ethiopia”. These forces have been in existence for more than forty years and were not created by Eritrea. They even predate the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the group that is currently in power in Ethiopia. They were in fact, comrades-in-arms with the present regime in Ethiopia and they were members of the transitional coalition government from 1991 to 1993. These movements are neither designated as terrorists nor are they under any sanctions. They have representations and offices all over the world. Even though the allegation that Eritrea arms and trains these groups is not true, it is not a violation of the UNSC resolution to have political and diplomatic relations with them. Besides, these Ethiopian groups represent popular sentiment and movements that should be taken seriously. They will survive no matter who supports or opposes them. Also, if relations between Eritrea and Ethiopia are to be raised in relation to the sanctions, then it is necessary to point out that the sanctions passed against Eritrea were designed to serve as side-issues to divert attention from implementation of the “final and binding” decision of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Border Commission.
Moreover, fairness and justice demands that if the Monitoring Group delves into discussing Eritrea’s support of opposition movements in Ethiopia, it should also discuss the support the Ethiopian government provides to various Eritrean armed and unarmed groups including the terrorist jihadist groups. These Eritrean groups are fully supported, funded, and equipped by the Ethiopian government. They are completely under the Ethiopian military command and control structure.
The effect of the intelligence support Ethiopia receives free of charge, compliments of the UN through the Monitoring Group, is visible in the Ethiopian government’s bragging about its capacity to “teach a military lesson to Eritrea”, and forays into Eritrean territory according to Ethiopian government press reports. Given the circumstances and incontrovertible evidence, it is right and legitimate for the Eritrean government to request the UNSC to replace the entire Monitoring Group with a neutral and professional group. Besides, by performing acts of espionage the present members of the Monitoring Group may find it difficult to have permission to travel inside Eritrea.
Even though sanctioning Eritrea is unjust and illegal, it is paramount to realize that the aim of sanctions and subsequent monitoring is to seek compliance with specific decision of the UNSC. The overarching goal of the UN is also to promote peace and prevent conflicts. Using sanctions for implementing strategic and security objectives of some member states, and to keep the goals shifting, until the hidden goals of the parties managing the monitoring groups and the UNSC behind the scene are met is a travesty of justice and makes the UN and its noble objectives sheer mockery. The UN is on the verge of facing the fate of the League of Nations: irrelevance.
The author is an Eritrean American who graduated from the Harrar Military Academy of Ethiopia at the top of his class, and served as an officer in the Imperial Bodyguard. He saw action in South-Eastern part of Ethiopia. After military service, he graduated with distinction from the Haile Selassie University in Addis Abeba and earned Master’s and Doctorate degrees in the U.S. While in Ethiopia, he served in high level governmental administrative positions, corporate management, and as Secretary General of the Ethiopian Chamber of Commerce. Currently, he is a professor at a university in the U. S. He has presented several papers and published extensively on war, peace, politics, and economic development about Eritrea and the region.