A Round-Up of News Articles from Inner City Press Reporter (A Must Follow)

Investigative journalist Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press has been known by many as the only trustworthy western journalist who reports right from the Security Council corridors with his black or white , non-biased articles.  He is now the only reliable source to learn exactly what is going on at the Security Council with regards to the latest drive for additional sanction on Eritrea. Thanks to him we already know that the Sanction threat is now dead on arrival. Kudos Matthew Russell Lee!

NO SUFFICIENT PROOF PROVIDED ON ERITREA’S ALLEGED PLOT TO ATTACK AU SUMMIT: RUSSIAN ENVOY

Russian envoy to UN complains that the Security Council wasn’t given sufficient proof of Eritrea’s alleged plot to attack the African Union summit in Addis Ababa. South Africa’s envoy as well said the Experts Report was inconclusive

By Matthew Russell Lee,

UNITED NATIONS, December 5 — As UN Security Council members gathered Monday to vote new Eritrea sanctions, neither the President, Foreign Minister or even Permanent Representative to the UN of Eritrea had been heard from.

Once the meeting began, Gabon was the only member to speak before the vote, urging all members to vote for the sanctions resolution.

When the vote was called, 13 hands went up YES– including to the surprise of some, South Africa — and two hands went up in abstention: Russia and China.

Both countries have longstanding critiques of sanctions. To different degrees so do India, Brazil and South Africa. But all three of these IBSA countries voted for the sanctions; only South Africa offered an explanation of vote.

In these ritual explanations of vote, Nigeria explained why it was Gabon’s co-sponsor on the resolution. German Permanent Representative Peter Wittig said that Eritrea is isolating itself including, he said, by not working with the European Union.

South Africa’s Doctor Mashabane expressed hope that the sanctions won’t hurt the livelihoods of Eritreans; he said South Africa had tried to avoid “collective punishment.” Some wondered why South Africa didn’t abstain. It is not a small question.

The US Mission to the UN emphasized that all of the Security Council’s African members had voted for the resolution; on her way out of the Council, US Ambassador Susan Rice Rat told Inner City Press again, it is a clear message.

Nevertheless, two permanent members of the Council abstained. China’s Li Baodong said that sanctions often don’t work; he said that China has abstained in the past and did so again today. He decried the rush to vote in this case.

US Ambassador Susan Rice took the floor citing back to the sanctions imposed in December 2009, saying that Eritrea still hasn’t settled its land dispute with Djibouti. She said that the Eritrean government has been extorting from its diaspora.

Last week, a self-described senior Western diplomat used this same word, extortion, referring to Eritrea trying to tax from incomes of its overseas citizens. But other countries do that; just as other countries have land disputes.

France’s Permanent Representative Gerard Araud took the floor and also referred to Eritrea’s land dispute with Djibouti. Unsaid was that France has a base in Djibouti, and has been reported to be involved in murky military activities in Somalia, just as it air-dropped weapons into Libya despite a Security Council arms embargo.

As the last speaker, because this month’s Council president, Russia’s Vitaly Churkin took an indirect swipe at how the Council’s Libya resolutions were interpreted or abused, saying he’s abstained this time because of language that could be subject to double interpretation.

Churkin also said that the Security Council wasn’t given sufficient proof of Eritrea allegedly trying to attack the African Union summit in Addis Ababa. Then he closed the meeting.

Three countries spoke at the UN Television stakeout after the vote: the US, Russia and finally South Africa. Inner City Press asked Susan Rice Rat about Eritrea’s critique that to invite the President to speak Monday morning, with the sanctions resolution “in blue” to be voted in the afternoon without changes, didn’t feel like due process.

Rice said that Eritrea had been given a chance in the summer, through its foreign minister, and had visas to come today, including one for President Isaias.

Russia’s Churkin, when asked by Inner City Press, said that the gap between morning and the afternoon vote was a “period of reflection” — but only on how to vote, not on changing the resolution, it seems. The process, as has been said, left a lot to be desired including in terms of due process.

Inner City Press asked Rice about Churkin’s statement that there wasn’t sufficient proof that Eritrea tried to attack the AU summit. Rice said it’s in the Experts’ Report, and that Ethiopia had offered ambassadors in Addis Ababa more proof.

When Inner City Press asked Churkin about his doubts, he said that the Council wasn’t given probative information. South Africa’s Mashabane, when asked by Inner City Press, said the Experts Report was inconclusive. He said it could be discussed at the African Union summit.

There, a choice will be made to give Jean Ping of Gabon a second term atop the AU, or to give the post to South Africa’s former minister Ms. Zuma.

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AT UN, NO SPEAKER FROM ERITREA, 5 ACCUSERS GIVEN FLOOR BEFORE SANCTIONS VOTE

The five green-eyed members of IGAD convened in their home town Addis for a last minute pleading to get their promised economic sanctions on Eritrea.

By Matthew Russell Lee,

UNITED NATIONS, December 5 — Eritrean president Isaias Afwerki had been told he could speak to the Security Council Monday morning, along with his neighbors and accusers, before the Council voted on sanctions against Eritrea on Monday afternoon.

Eritrea responded that this was not due process, with the sanctions resolution already locked in and “in blue.” Late on December 2 Eritrea’s Ambassador Araya Desta told Inner City Press “no one will come” under these circumstances.

On December 3 Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh submitted a letter to this effect.

When Monday morning came, there was no consultation meeting on the Eritrean letter. Inner City Press asked US Ambassador Susan Rice on her way in if she thought Eritrea’s neighbors and accusers should still speak, if Eritrea wasn’t coming.

They could have,” Rice answered.

Inner City Press asked UK Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant the same question; he replied, “Anyone can speak who has a vested interest.”

And the interests were vested, piped in by video conference from Addis Ababa. The president of Djibouti spoke about his country’s land dispute with Eritrea.

The President of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government spoke, and the foreign minister of Kenya which has entered Somalia with troops it now wants put under African Union helmets, and paid by the UN. The AU representative of Uganda, whose UPDF troops already have that status, also spoke.

Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia spoke about his longstanding land dispute — Eritrea claims its demarcation win was never implemented — but insisted three times, “It is not a family quarrel.” He emphasized the IGAD element and thanked Gabon and Nigeria but did not mention South Africa. (We will have more on this.)

The meeting was suspended after the speakers from Addis; the sanctions will be voted on at 3 pm. It felt like the sanctions, which Zenawi said were watered down, might be made harsher. “They’re in blue,” Inner City Press was told.

On his way out, Ethiopia’s Permanent Representative to the UN Tekeda Alemu stopped to speak to Inner City Press and provide input. He said, “the Eritrean interest was never to have an opportunity for the president to talk.”

One answer is, how will we know, if such short notice was given, to speak hours before an already in-blue resolution would be voted on?

While some on the Security Council described the “compromise” reached on November 30 as innovative and a good precedent — to invite a head of state to speak — to do so on such short notice, and to not provide for any gap to consult with capitals and modify a resolution if necessary, is questionable.

It ended up with some analogizing it to a kangaroo court, or perhaps a one-sided therapy session like an intervention. Only the intervenee was not present. The vote is at 3 pm.

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ERITREA, BLAMING US, WRITES AGAIN TO UN COUNCIL ASKING FOR MORE TIME

Allowing a head of State to speak in the morning hours and vote a sanction on his country in the afternoon is like to allow a defendant to speak only before sentencing, not during the trial. That’s unacceptable.

By Matthew Russell Lee,

UNITED NATIONS, December 3 — As the scheduled UN Security Council vote on new sanctions against Eritrea on Monday looms, on Saturday the country’s foreign minister Osman Saleh wrote again to Council president Vitaly Churkin of Russia asking for more time.

Saleh’s letter, which Inner City Press received and is putting online here, puts the blame for the rush and denial of due process on the United States. The letter does not mention Gabon, the ostensible sponsor of the sanctions resolution.

It does not seem that the Council will consider Saleh’s letter until Monday morning, the time given at the eleventh hour for Eritrean president Isaias Afwerki to address to the Council.

The letter says that such intervention would be “a mere formality” — the resolution is already “in blue” and ready to be voted on. No provision was made by the Council to consult with capitals after hearing from Eritrea’s president.

To some it appears that the initially satisfying compromise — to here from Isaias Afwerki and then vote — is akin to allowing a defendant to speak only before sentencing, not during the trial.

This is a rare and unprecedented case, in which a country faced with Council sanctions has repeatedly asked to be heard, and then asking that the schedule make such a hearing possible and potentially meaningful. Can the Security Council rise to the challenge, despite the insistent pressure of its (by far) most insistent member?

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TO UN FOR SANCTION VOTE, ERITREAN ENVOY TELLS “NO ONE WILL COME” ON SHORT NOTICE

Eritrean president and his delegation couldn't come to address the Council in one day and half. So no one will come! - Amb. Desta

By Matthew Russell Lee, Exclusive

UNITED NATIONS, December 2 — “No one will come” from Asmara to the UN in New York on Monday, Eritrea’s Permanent Representative Araya Desta told Inner City Press after 5 pm on Friday.

After a Security Council fight resulting in an eleventh hour invitation to President Isaias Afwerki to address the Council on Monday just before new sanctions on Eritrea are slated to be voted on, throughout Friday afternoon there was discussion that the US hadn’t come through with visas.

But by 5 pm the US bragged that 11 visas were being granted, for pick up Saturday morning.

This put the ball back in Eritrea’s court. Three times Isaias Afwerki had asked to address the Council before it votes on further sanctions. The request was ignored until Gabon and the United States on November 29 pushed for a vote on sanctions the next day.

Facing opposition, it was agreed to invite not only Isaias Afwerki and but also leaders of Eritrea’s neighbors to address the Council Monday morning, then vote on Monday afternoon.

But as Desta told Inner City Press on Friday night, this schedule lacked due process. He said, “They [fouled] it up, I’m sorry to say it that way. That’s what Doctor Rice wants. No one is coming.”

Desta provided reasons of timing, and of due process, first calling it “short notice, we would have had to arrange a charter. You don’t ask a president to come within a day and a half.” Still he emphasized, “My President was ready to come.”

Then Desta pointed out that the sanctions resolution will already be “in blue” — what if Security Council members wanted to consult that capitals after hearing the morning’s speeches?

He said, “the Security Council should take time, the experts should meet and discuss on each and every paragraph. They don’t want to do that. There is no crisis in the region. So what is the reason they are bringing it in a rush? You wrote it yourself, they didn’t want to deal with the Russians.”

To many, the push on November 29 to haul off and vote on November 30, the last day of Portugal’s Council presidency, seemed strange. Desta said, “the way Doctor Rice has done was imposition, really outrageous.”

It does look like a strange compromise now. As one Council member mused to Inner City Press, “to put a head of state into a situation in which he speaks to the Council in the morning, and they adopt sanctions against his country in the afternoon, is a set-up for a no-show.”

Another suggested that the Council should have scheduled the President to speak as early in December as he could, and then hold the vote on another subsequent day. But that appears no longer here nor there. “No one will come,” Desta told Inner City Press.

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AT UN AS ERITREA ASKS FOR MORE TIME, US SAYS “ITS MONDAY,” RUSSIA’S SANCTIONS CONCERNS

By Matthew Russell Lee,

UNITED NATIONS, December 2 — Pushing for new UN Security Council sanctions on Eritrea, the US and Gabon wanted a vote on November 30.

After running into opposition, it was decided that Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki would to invited to address the Council on the morning of December 5, along with representatives of neighboring countries, then the vote would occur that afternoon.

Eritrea responded that the turn-around time was too short, and asked for an extension. Inner City Press on December 2 asked US Deputy Permanent Representative Rosemary DiCarlo about Eritrea’s request for an extension.

The schedule is Monday,” she told Inner City Press with a smile. “See you Monday.”

When December’s Security Council president Russia’s Permanent Representative Vitaly Churkin gave a press conference, Inner City Press asked him about Eritrea’s request, as well as for Russia’s view of the proposed sanctions, which refer to the mining sector and remittences to Eritrea from its diaspora.

Churkin described the schedule for Monday, then said he thought the President was coming, that “visas have been issued,” but that if he could not Eritrea could be represented by its foreign minister or Permanent Representative Desta.

Churkin said Russia and others still have some concerns with the proposed sanctions, which are still being negotiated.

South Africa’s on the record comments to Inner City Press on the sanctions are online, here.

On December 1, a self-described “senior Western diplomat” said of the proposed new sanctions on Eritrea, “It is the tightening of the screw…to deal with their taxes on diaspora income. They elicit taxes through their embassies from the diaspora. It’s a kind of extortion.”

Some have pointed out, for example, that Nordic and other countries tax the income of their citizens working overseas. The question of how taxes are collected is an important one, but as some Council members complained to Inner City Presss when the US and Gabon pushed for a November 30 vote, there’s been no briefing on the issue from the UN Secretariat, to get the facts.

Now the vote is scheduled for December 5, but there has still been no such briefing. While one hopes that the President of Eritrea comes, if only as a matter of due process, as one Council member mused to Inner City Press, “to put a head of state into a situation in which he speaks to the Council in the morning, and they adopt sanctions against his country in the afternoon, is a set-up for a no-show.”

Another suggested that the Council should have scheduled the President to speak as early in December as he could, and then hold the vote on another subsequent day. But for now, the showdown is set for December 5.

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AS ERITREA SANCTION DELAYED TO MONDAY, RICE SAYS “GABON WAS FLEXIBLE”

Thanks to Amb. Li Baodong of China and Amb. Vitaly Churkin of Russia, the rush to slap Eritrea with sanction has been halted. They also insist President Isaias should come and address the Council before any vote, a move previously blocked by Amb. Susan Rat.

By Matthew Russell Lee, Exclusive

UNITED NATIONS, November 30, updated below — After a “highly charged” Security Council consultation on when and how to vote on Eritrea sanctions, US Ambassador Susan Rice [Rat] emerged Wednesday afternoon. She told Inner City Press exclusively, “I think the Gabonese were incredibly generous, to give all members time to get to instructions, I think going to Monday is the latest reasonable.”

The US and Gabon, which put the draft resolution “into blue” late Tuesday, had been pushing for a fast vote on Wednesday. But among others, Russia said that was too fast.

Chinese Permanent Representative Li Baodong, on his way into the consultations, told Inner City Press, “We reject any effort to push for action.” He added, “Let the President of Eritrea come to present his statement.”

Inner City Press asked Rice about Afwerki coming, which the US had put a block on. Now Rice said, “this was discussed formally for the first time today since it was first raised back at the end of October on the program of work. No member state until today, when we were talking about the timing of the vote, raised any interest in pushing the Isaias request.”

Earlier on Wednesday, Inner City Press asked Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin why no procedural vote had been called for after Ambassador Rice blocked granting Afkerki’s request to address the Council. Churkin explained, “if we were told a vote is going to take place a week from now, we will go for procedural vote… Maybe this is why they rushed into blue, not to let him come. I think it is a ridiculous thing.”

Rice said, “the United States as host country is obliged to issue a visa, so let’s see if he comes.” She reiterated her view that it is “redundant and likely counterproductive to have a spectacle in the Security Council in which heads of state make emotional statements on the eve of-on the same day as the vote.”

The outgoing Portuguese presidency told Inner City Press they are figuring out how to make the invitation. Eritrean representatives told Inner City Press it is a “short turn around time.” Given the stakes, one expected Afwerki to come — and others from the region.

There is a larger regional dynamic at issue: whether Jean Ping will get a second term as head of the African Union, or be replaced by for example Jacob Zuma of South Africa.

A representative of one of Eritrea’s neighbors came to complain to Inner City Press that “South Africa is pressuring us to vote for Zuma, and now it’s just sour grapes on their part. They need to decide if they are with the BRICS or with Africa.” Others would say it’s not either / or.

Inner City Press asked Rice to respond to what Eritrea’s UN Ambassador Araya Desta told it, that “It is crazy to penalize the Eritrean people in order to get a second term for Jean Ping as commissioner of the African Union… Meles [Zenawi] tells him, I’ll help you get a second term, if you helpput more sanctions on Eritrea.

Rice paused and called this “weird speculation… Jean Ping is running for a second term, South Africans have a candidate.”

Some wonder, how much of this is about the AU race?

Rice concluded that the vote will take place Monday and again, “the Gabonese were very flexible and generous.” And so it goes at the UN.

Here is the US Mission to the UN’s transcription:

Inner City Press: What about President Afwerki coming?

AMBASSADOR RICE: First of all, as you know, this was discussed formally for the first time today since it was first raised back at the end of October on the program of work. No member state until today, when we were talking about the timing of the vote, raised any interest in pushing the Isaias request . As you know, if a head of state chooses to come to the United Nations, the United States as host country is obliged to issue a visa, so let’s see if he comes.

Inner City Press: What about the other ones [i.e. other regional countries]?

AMBASSADOR RICE: Same for any of them. We still think it’s redundant and likely counterproductive to have a spectacle in the Security Council in which heads of state make emotional statements on the eve of-on the same day as the vote. But if that’s what they choose to do, it’ll happen, and we’ll vote on Monday.
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ON ERITREA SANCTIONS, CHINA “REJECTS PUSH FOR ACTION,” VOTE SWITCHED TO MONDAY?

By Matthew Russell Lee,

UNITED NATIONS, November 30 — While on Eritrea sanctions the US and Gabon continued pushing Wednesday afternoon for a vote later in the day, more opposition to the push became public.

Chinese Permanent Representative Li Baodong, on his way into the consultations, told Inner City Press, “We reject any effort to push for action.” He added, “Let the President of Eritrea come to present his statement.”

The request by Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea to “be given the audience to address the [UNSC] before any action is taken on the draft resolution” has been blocked by US Ambassador Susan Rice [Rat]. Inner City Press asked UK Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant about Afwerki speaking.

We have no objection,” Lyall Grant said. Inner City Press asked if the UK would call for a procedural vote, which would require a simple majority with no veto powers. Lyall Grant said no, “We’re not asking him to come, so there’s no reason for us to ask… If those who particularly want him to come, I expect they’d call for a vote.”

A number of Council members have told Inner City Press it would be a bad precedent to not grant the request of a head of state to address the Council, especially before sanctions. But who will call for that procedural vote? “It’s better it’s by consensus,” one member told Inner City Press. But what deal might make the US move?

Update of 3:50 pm — sources in the Council predict the vote pushed back “at least” to Monday, and President Afwerki being invited.

Meanwhile while it was said the US has on its side, among Council African members, not only Gabon but Nigeria, sources said that Nigeria either “wants more time” or “is flexible.” We’ll see.

The US cites the position of IGAD on Eritrea — at the same time IGAD is telling Kenya to allow Omar al Bashir, indicted by the International Criminal Court for genocide in Sudan, to visit without being arrested. If the US cites IGAD favorably for one position, does it agree with this second IGAD position?

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ERITREA REPESENTATIVE SAYS ETHIOPIA OFFERS JEAN PING SECOND AU TERM HELP AS TRADE FOR HIS SANCTION SUPPORT

By Matthew Russell Lee, Exclusive

UNITED NATIONS, November 30 — Amid widespread questioning in the UN Security Council of the push to vote today on new Eritrea sanctions, with the US having blocked a request from Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki to talk to the Council, Gabon midday on Wednesday again said it would call for a vote later that day.

Sources tell Inner City Press that Russia has threatened to veto.

Inner City Press has obtained a copy of the November 29 letter to the Council from Eritrea’s UN Ambassador Araya Desta, and asked Desta about it. “It is the third letter,” Desta told Inner City Press.

The letter says, “It has come to my attention that the delebation of Gabon intends to table the draft resolution on Eritrea for action tomorrow… I appeal to your Excellency that H.E. Mr. Isaias Afwerki, President of the State of Eritrea, be given the audience to address the [UNSC] before any action is taken on the draft resolution.”

Desta speaking exclusively to Inner City Press went further: “What does Gabon know about Eritrea? Where it is? They don’t even know the location of Eritrea.” Significantly, larger African member of the Council South Africa is known to oppose voting on Wednesday on the proposed sanctions.

Desta told Inner City Press, “It is crazy to penalize the Eritrean people in order to get a second term for Jean Ping as commissioner of the African Union.” He mused, “maybe Meles [Zenawi] tells him, I’ll help you get a second term, if you help” me put more sanctions on Eritrea. [Editor’s Note: Jean Ping is a Gabonese national from Gabon, the primary sponsor of the sanction]

Inner City Press asked Desta why he thought the US was being so adamant. Desta said “my President has wrote two or three letters” to President Obama, “my foreign minister met with them.”

Some have alluded to the US “using” Ethiopia to fight Islamists in Somalia, first the Islamic Courts and now Al Shabaab, including it’s said from drone bases in Ethiopia.

To be less US-focused, Eritrea clearly has enemies among other neighbors: Djibouti, for example, often buzzes around the Security Council. But the idea that a head of state should on request be allowed to address the Security Council before such sanctions are voted on seems to be widely held.

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