By Afrah Negash,
The UN Monitoring Group (MG) that is responsible to scrutinize the arms moving into Somalia will present its report in the coming few days. While the Group has not yet released its latest report, one needs no crystal ball to predict what the report will include.
Invariably, it will endorse the allegations that were already made by Ethiopian officials “Eritrea is supporting rebels in Djibouti, a splinter group from the SPLM/A, Islamist in Somalia, and was attempting to kill African presidents in Addis Ababa”. Its recommendation will similarly be the same to what recently Ethiopia requested in the name of IGAD: more and tougher sanctions on Eritrea, targeting the mining sector and remittances from the Diaspora.
But, how the MG is going to justify its uncorroborated allegations against Eritrea? The allegations are dreamt up by Ethiopia in an attempt to isolate Eritrea thus do not have a grain of truth. The question is then: does the Group has any credibility left?
In June 2010, Eritrea and Djibouti signed an Agreement to settle their dispute with Qatari mediation.
As per the agreement, Eritrean forces withdrew from the border areas creating a buffer zone that was filled by Qatari peacekeepers in consistent with UNSC Resolution 1862 (2009). In the aftermath of the signing to the agreement there were increasingly vocal voices within the Council (including Permanent members such as France and China) calling for the lifting of the sanctions that were imposed on Eritrea.
The U.S delegation vetoed the move stating the need to wait for the next Report of the Monitoring Group a year later, before deciding on the issue. The U.S position in the Council raises several questions: If the US was keenly interested in the report of the Group before making any decision, why they did it spearheaded UNSC Resolution 1907 (2009) without any such Reports?
One plausible answer is that the US is working to legalize its move against Eritrea through fabricated evidence that allege Eritrea. Suffice to mention the difficulty the former US Ambassador to Asmara Ronald K. McMullen had to convince Western diplomats in Asmara of Eritrea’s support to Somali rebels. In one of the documents leaked recently, the Ambassador quoted a western diplomat as commenting: “Are your [US] claims of Eritrean support for al-Shabaab like those of Saddam’s WMD program?”
Therefore, it is difficult to await objectivity from a body whose extension of mandate is advocated solely by the US.
Another important issue that has undermined the credibility of the Monitoring Group is the way it handled its investigations. The Group visited Asmara twice and met with political, economic and military officials. The documents and information it requested raise suspicion. These included the nature and maintenance activities of Eritrea’s fighter planes, its share from the mining sector (especially Bisha), and how the money from Diaspora is collected and used. These questions directly infringe on Eritrea’s sovereignty and national security. How could Eritrea be expected to provide such sensitive information? And why is the Group interested in issues that are beyond its mandate?
In fact, examples abound of how Western counties have been utilizing monitoring groups to spy and gather intelligence. The US, for instance, according a Washington Post report “infiltrated agents and espionage equipment for three years into United Nations arms control teams in Iraq to eavesdrop on the Iraqi military without the knowledge of the U.N. agency.” In fact, according to several reports, when the US bombed Iraq in December 1998, the data collected through UNSCOM were later used to pick the targets. The same is true with the ongoing investigation in Lebanon on the assassination of late Prime Minister Rafik al Hariri.
Last but not least, the credibility of the Somalia Monitoring Group has been repeatedly undermined by its previous reports filled with unverified allegations that were quickly dismissed. For instance, in its Report of December 2006 the Somali Monitoring Group recycled Ethiopian claims and falsely maintained that Eritrea had sent 2,000 combat troops to Somalia. The information was later discovered as false and Eritrea expressly asked for rectification and remedies against unsubstantiated report, but to no avail. Worse still, the Group continued to heap similar allegations in subsequent reports without corroborating the facts.
It is clear that the Report of the Monitoring Group, as the UNSC Resolution against Eritrea, has less to do with ensuring peace and stability in Somalia, or punish the real spoilers that are responsible to instability in the region. Its aim is to vilify Eritrea, deter it from playing any role, and more importantly derail international attention from Ethiopia’s violation of its international treaty obligations. Moreover, while the UNSC has put an arms embargo on Eritrea in a bid to weaken its defense capabilities, Ethiopia is publicly threatening to wage war against Eritrea. The new round of sanctions being contemplated aim at crippling Eritrea’s economy that many observers have attested is on the takeoff stage.