MFA Skeptic on Eritrea, Djibouti Agreement

Ethiopia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs(MFA) called  the international community to be cautious on the significance of the recent Qatari sponsored agreement to resolve the border dispute of Eritrea and Djibouti. MFA, in its weekly statement, provided several reasons to show how the agreement fails to indicate a real change of heart on the Eritrean regime, let alone meet the conditions of the UN Security Council Resolution. It is to berecalled that, last year, the UN Security Council Resolution imposed sanctions on the Eritrean government for assisting terrorist organizations and its border dispute with Djibouti.

Here is the statement from June 26/2010 A Week in the Horn – a weekly press statement of MFA.

Caution needed against hasty assessment of ‘Eritrea’s renewed good faith’

The recent agreement signed between Eritrea and Djibouti to resolve their border dispute has received positive notice from the international community coming, as it does, from a regime that has been vehemently denying the very existence of any dispute. Various sections of the international community have been expressing optimism following the agreement, the assumption being that this is a positive indication that the regime in Asmara is mending its ways. Some naïve commentators even go as far as to take this particular development as having gone in some ways in meeting the conditions of Resolution 1907. While Eritrean regime’s willingness to sign the agreement is a welcome development, there are, however, reasons to be skeptical of the international community’s enthusiasm towards the agreement.

To begin with, the process by which the agreement was reached not only was not transparent but it also was done without the involvement or knowledge of the relevant international and regional organizations such as the UN Security Council, the AU or IGAD. These organizations, it is to be recalled, have been calling on the government of Eritrea to resolve its dispute with Djibouti and to desist from its destabilizing activities throughout the region.

In fact, it was the calls of these organizations that the Eritrean government has defied for a long time. The UN and the AU were communicated of the signing of the agreement not by the parties themselves but by the Prime Minister of the government of Qatar. It is only natural that organizations be part of the implementation of resolutions passed under their auspices. This is particularly relevant to the Security Council which has been given the mandate under the UN Charter for international peace and security. Qatar, however well-intentioned, cannot assume that responsibility.

Equally important, the government of Eritrea has yet not officially acknowledged the signing of the agreement. A word has yet to be heard from Eritrea’s officials about the agreement and its specific contents. As we have notedMFA Skeptic on Eritrea, Djibouti Agreement last week, this is a rather strange spectacle which cannot be put aside as politically insignificant or trivial. All the more so because as late as two or three weeks prior to the announcement of the Qatari initiative, the Eritrean authorities were telling the international community including through official communication to the Security Council, that the accusation that they were occupying Djibouti territory was mere fabrication. It defies reason how a government that has not formally acknowledged the existence of a problem will genuinely be interested in resolving it.

But more importantly, it would be unwise, as President Omar Guelleh of Djibouti recently remarked in the UN Security Council, to make “a hasty assessment of Eritrea’s renewed good faith”. Indeed there are those who naively believe Eritrea has taken significant steps towards fulfilling the demands in the UNSC resolution 1907. However they seem to be oblivious to other aspects of the resolution than the call for the resolving of the border dispute with Djibouti.

Eritrea may have of late been resorting to the use of to semantic sleights of hand and diplomatic obfuscations to wear a peacefulfaçade; in fact a lot of effort has been made to refurbish its image without actually getting its acts right. But there is no evidence to even remotely suggest that it has altogether stopped its destructive activities in Somalia and other countries of the region, much less any willingness to play a constructive role in the search for peace. If anything, Eritrea still continues arming and deploying insurgents into its neighbours.

It is not yet clear if the agreement it signed will also include stopping its support to rebels opposed to the government of Djibouti. It continues to deny that the TFG is the only legitimate government in Somalia. Its idea of inclusive political process in Somalia is oddly antagonistic to what the rest of the world means by that: a process inclusive of all peaceful political actors. Eritrea still remains the only state adamant in its open support to extremists as partners for peace in Somalia.

It is understandable that the international community should take any positive signal from the regime in Asmara—however insignificant—with a modicum of optimism in the interest of encouraging constructive engagement, but it has to be a guarded one. Eritrea’s behaviour is far from reassuring. What the opacity surrounding the agreement could perhaps underline is the same pattern of hide-and-seek that the government of Eritrea has now perfected into an art form.

The leaders of Eritrea would do anything to capitalize on the positive publicity that comes with the announcement of the signing of such agreement to improve their image tarnished by the series of destabilizing activities they have been engaged in for a long time without actually addressing the very anomalies they have helped create. It is only fitting that the relevant bodies do everything to ensure its full compliance with the UNSC resolutions in a transparent manner. This is specifically required of the Secretary General of the United Nations who has been given the mandate to submit a report soon on the implementation of Council Resolution 1907.

Any exaggerated account of Eritrea’s alleged partial fulfillment of the demands of the Council under Resolution 1907 would not serve the interest of peace in the region.