Friday, September 26, 2008

Eritrea’s fixation on 'third parties'

A Week in the Horn

26 September 2008

Addis Ababa

It has become something of a trademark of Eritrea’s foreign policy to launch violent attacks on any third party that fails to sympathize with its belligerent stance in its relations with its neighbours. At various times the United Nations, the African Union and, increasingly in recent months, the United States have been vilified for failing to force Ethiopia to succumb to Eritrea’s views on the settlement of disputes between the two countries. The United Nations has been attacked for failing to impose mechanical demarcation of the boundary on Ethiopia. Despite its own violations of the Algiers Agreements, Eritrea wanted the United Nations to act as enforcer for its own position. Rebuffed by the UN, Eritrea has displayed characteristic outrage at being refused its demands, accusing the Security Council of abdicating its legal responsibilities and claiming Security Council resolutions had no legal substance. The African Union has long been vilified by Eritrea as an “ineffective” regional body. The reason is clear. The AU, like the OAU before it, has consistently refused to applaud Eritrea’s adventurism in the region and the rest of Africa. In 1998, the then OAU requested Eritrea to withdraw its invading forces from Ethiopian territories it had illegally occupied. It also played a critical part of facilitating the negotiations which led to the signing of the Algiers Agreements and was one of the Witnesses to the Agreement. The AU has been similarly critical of Eritrea’s latest adventure in invading Djibouti.

Now the increasing focus of Eritrea’s criticisms has shifted to the United States, with almost daily, and increasingly virulent, attacks. It is worth noticing that these scurrilous attacks against the US and other western countries, do not indicate any genuine oppostioin based on principle, as Eritrea would like to pretend. Eritrea’s record provides clear evidence to the contrary. Indeed it was only a year or two ago, that Eritrea was offering “blanket flyover rights, the use of Eritrea’s two major ports and the use of the new airport near the port of Massawa that is able to accommodate all types of aircraft”, to the United States. Eritrean authorities were stressing that Eritrea’s strategic location in the Horn of Africa, with more than 600 miles of coastline along the Red Sea, located just across from Saudi Arabia and Yemen, provided a unique resource for US use. However, when the US failed to see that “the time has come for the US to capitalize on this unique opportunity”, Eritrea’s attitude changed sharply. The US became responsible for concocting “endless diversionary ploys and schemes.” It had misused its “leverage” in the Security Council to paralyze implementation of border demarcation. Earlier this year, President Issayas even wrote the President of the Security Council calling on the council to examine “the acts of destabilization that the US Administration is fomenting day and night in our region”. All this apparently because, in Eritrea’s view, the US refused to put the necessary pressure on Ethiopia to accept Eritrea’s position on border demarcation.

The Week in the Horn cannot pretend to speak for the US, nor for the UN nor the AU, but it is clear the real focus of these attacks on third parties is certainly Ethiopia. This is the kind of mentality that effectively blocks progress towards peace in this region. Solutions cannot be imposed by one side or the other, or by third parties. Eritrea knows well that no government in Ethiopia would accept the sort of imposed solution of which it has been dreaming. That is why some of the unfriendly proposals on Ethiopia and Eritrea, coming from the US Congress, are so dangerous; they feed the delusions of Eritrea. This is why Eritrea still refuses to make any move towards dialogue and negotiation. Eritrea should realize that solutions for the boundary or any other dispute can only be found by the two parties working together in a peaceful and legal manner. Vituperation will not get either of us anywhere.

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