Saturday, March 24, 2012

Ethiopia & Eritrea illusive Peace and West

Experts warn that as  world powers close ranks to deal with Al Shabaab, they should not forget Eritrea. Picture: AFP
Experts warn that as world powers close ranks to deal with Al Shabaab, they should not forget Eritrea. Picture: AFP 

Ethiopia’s ploy to get West to move on Eritrea FRED OLUOCH

With Somalia becoming the centre of international attention, Ethiopia’s recent attack on Eritrea is being seen as part of an effort to persuade the international community to intervene in the Red Sea nation too.

It is a two-edged approach by Ethiopia — to neutralise rebel groups operating from Eritrea and ease pressure from its allies in the Middle East to give up Eritrean territories it occupies.
Qatar and Israel have separately been mediating between the two countries for Ethiopia to return the border area of Badme and for Eritrea to stop supporting the Al Shabaab militia in Somalia. 
While Israel is keen to shut down terrorist training camps in Somalia, Qatar is interested in the vast fertile agricultural lands of eastern Sudan for cultivation of food crops for export. It so happens that the eastern Sudanese region is nearest to the Eritrean port of Assab.
Qatar has financed the expansion of roads linking eastern Sudan to Eritrea and was an important facilitator of Eritrean-Sudanese diplomatic ties.
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Rashid Abdi, an Independent Horn of Africa analyst argues that Ethiopia’s recent attack on Eritrea is an attempt to scuttle the talks because Ethiopia does not want to hand over Badme without assurances and concessions from Eritrea. The dispute over Badme caused the 1998-2000 war between the two countries.
Ethiopia’s discomfort
“Ethiopia needs assurances that Eritrea will not continue to support rebel groups in the Ogaden and Afar regions, a binding non-aggression pact and probably squeeze in some agreement on how landlocked Ethiopia could use the port of Assab,” he said.
But Eritrea, whose leader Isaias Afewerki is suffering from a severe liver ailment, has refused to retaliate, describing the incursion as “flagrant aggression” designed to divert attention from Ethiopia’s illegal occupation of Eritrean territories. 
Eritrea’s lack of response has much to do with its current pariah status in the region over its alleged support to Al Shabaab, and its many internal problems, including Afewerki’s illness.
In late January, President Afewerki abruptly left for Qatar where he stayed for about two weeks receiving treatment.
Eritrea is basically closed from the rest of the world and has had difficult relations with its neighbours and the international community.  In October last year, Kenya accused Eritrea of delivering two planeloads of weapons to Baidoa for Al Shabaab, a charge that the Red Sea country denied.
Apart from Sudan, which has maintained cordial relations with Eritrea, the government in Asmara country continues to be treated with suspicion by other countries of the region. The exit of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has also deprived Eritrea of a major ally.
Thus, experts on the Horn argue that Ethiopia’s recent attacks on Eritrea is meant to remind the world that even as they close ranks to deal with Al Shabaab, they should not forget Eritrea.
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