By Matthew Russell Lee (Inner City Press),
After the Eritrea meeting of the UN Security Council on July 19, Eritrea’s Mission to the UN reached out to offer an interview with Yemane Ghebreab, special political adviser to President Isaias Afwerki.
Afwerki had met with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on July 8 in Juba, the day before South Sudan’s independence. In the UN read-out afterward, and in response to questions from Inner City Press, the UN insisted that the topic of Somalia was not discussed, that “the read out speaks for itself.” But Yemane Ghebreab on July 21 told Inner City Press that Somalia was in fact discussed with Ban.
As sources in the Security Council’s closed door July 19 meeting said happened there, Yemane Ghebreab denied that Eritrea has supported the Al Shabaab rebels in Somalia. For this proposition, he argued that Eritrea is a secular country, half Christian, and would not support Islamists.
Yemane Ghebreab said that in the close door meeting the US, represented by Ambassador Susan Rice, had urged further sanctions on Eritrea, including some that would bar the diaspora from sending money home for development projects, and block investment in mining, including by American firms.
Inner City Press asked Yemane Ghebreab to contrast the positions of the US under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Yemane Ghebreab replied that “we knew Susan Rice when she was with the Clinton administration,” but now things were very hostile, that the US alone wanted more sanctions. (Other Security Council sources later disagreed with this assessment, while identifying the US as “the most anti-Eritrea.”)
Yemane Ghebreab said that the US will support Ethiopia whatever it does, including “violating international law” by holding on to Eritrean territory including Badme, and buying 200 tanks while asking for aid money.
Inner City Press asked if he thought that Ethiopia being tapped as provider of troops for Abyei in Sudan further isolated Eritrea. We do not begrudge them their peacekeeping role, Yemane Ghebreab in essence replied.
Inner City Press asked Yemane Ghebreab about the recent defections by Eritrean athletes; he replied that was merely “migration.”
Inner City Press asked if military aged males are not allowed passports. There is “national service,” he said, like the draft the US had in the Vietnam War era.
Inner City Press asked if the family of people who defect are punished. “Only if they are complicit,” Yemane Ghebreab said. He said his country became independent as the Cold War ended and things have not worked out in the Horn of Africa as they had hoped. He said there is hope.