Here we go again! The Somalia Eritrea Monitoring Group handed its final report to the media before its primary target nation, Eritrea, was given a copy.
Eritrea has reduced its support for the al Shabaab militant group in Somalia under international pressure, but still violates U.N. Security Council resolutions and remains a destabilizing influence, a U.N. report says.
The U.N. Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, which investigates violations of an arms embargo on both nations, said in a report to the Council, seen by Reuters, that it had found no evidence of direct Eritrean support for al Shabaab in the last year.
The Council imposed the embargo on the tiny east African state of Eritrea in 2009 over concerns its government was providing finance and weapons to al Shabaab – charges Asmara denied. The Monitoring Group now says that support has evaporated.
This was “a symptom of growing friction between the authorities in Asmara and al Shabaab’s leadership” as well as the “result of enhanced international scrutiny, which has made direct support … a much riskier undertaking than in the past“, said the report, which is scheduled to be published this week.
“Although it is possible that the Eritrean authorities have continued to provide financial and other forms of assistance to (Somali) armed opposition groups, without their activities being detected, it is the Monitoring Group’s assessment that any such assistance is negligible,” the report said.
Instead, the panel presented evidence that Asmara deployed Ethiopian rebel groups via Somalia, sold weapons to smuggling rings in Sudan that do business with Palestinian arms dealers, and imported spare parts for its air force.
The report also alleged that ethnic Afar rebels responsible for the killing of five European tourists in eastern Ethiopia in January were hosted and trained in Eritrea, though there was no evidence the Red Sea state had a direct role in the killings.
It said the escape last year of Djiboutian prisoners of war held in Eritrea proved Asmara had violated a U.N. resolution calling on it to disclose information on their whereabouts after their capture following a border clash in 2008.
“Eritrea has failed to comply with Security Council resolutions and remains a destabilizing influence across much of the region,” the report said.
The Red Sea state has previously rejected these allegations and has called for the replacement of the panel’s members over what it calls their bias in favor of its arch-foe Ethiopia. Eritrean envoys to the AU declined to comment specifically on the latest U.N. report.
Al Shabaab has controlled much of southern Somalia since 2007, imposing a strict version of Islamic law in areas under its control. But over the last year it has been forced out of the Somali capital Mogadishu and other parts of the south by the coordinated military operations of U.N.-backed African troops.
TOO EARLY TO LIFT SANCTIONS
Last year, the Monitoring Group alleged Eritrea was behind a failed plot to bomb an African Union summit in Ethiopia, had bankrolled known members of al Shabaab in Kenya and had been involved in the smuggling of weapons through Sudan and Egypt.
As a result, the Council prolonged the arms embargo and assets freeze on Eritrea, in addition to a travel ban on some officials, amid an escalation in operations against al Shabaab by AU, Kenyan and Ethiopian troops and their Somali allies.
Matthew Bryden, the Monitoring Group’s coordinator, told Reuters that Eritrea was lobbying its allies at the Security Council to push for a removal of the arms embargo, but he said other Council members were reluctant to do this.
“We’re trying to make the case that any improvement in Eritrea’s conduct is the result of sanctions, and that it’s too early to lift them because of the other violations they have committed,” Bryden said.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Treasury Department issued sanctions against Colonels Tewolde Habte Negash and Teame Abraham Goitom, two senior Eritrean military officers Washington says have worked closely with al Shabaab in the past.
Diplomats at the U.N. say the U.S. move against the two officers, who have not been subject to full Security Council sanctions, suggests that Eritrea will face sustained pressure from the United States and its allies in the Council.
Eritrean officials routinely deny involvement in Somalia and say the Council embargo decision was based on “fabricated lies” made up by the U.S. government and its ally Ethiopia.
In a letter obtained by Reuters in December, Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh accused the U.N. panel of bias and urged the Council’s chair to establish an “independent, impartial and credible body“.
TAXES, TRAFFICKING AND GOLD REVENUES
European and North American governments have also been concerned about Eritrea’s use of revenues from the taxation of Eritrean citizens in the diaspora, from human trafficking of refugees through Sudan and Egypt, and from gold mining.
The Monitoring Group reported that both the British and German governments had taken action to prevent taxes being collected from diaspora Eritreans in their territories, in which Eritrean government agents often use coercion.
“Individuals who refuse to make payment may have their inheritance rights voided, their family members may be penalized, and they may be subject to detention or denial of an exit visa if they return to Eritrea,” it said.
Asmara denies coercing its citizens, but insists it has the right to encourage its diaspora to contribute to the national budget, including for defense.
The report said Eritrean officials involved in the smuggling of weapons through Sudan and Egypt were also part of a people trafficking network that delivered tens of thousands of Eritrean refugees to Israel between 2009 and 2011.
Refugees interviewed in Israel said they were smuggled through Sudan by ethnic Rashaida gangs which the Monitoring Group says work with General Tekle Kiflai, the commander of Eritrea’s western military zone.
Asmara says its fleeing nationals, often escaping unlimited military conscription, were being lured to leave the country by sustained American “propaganda”.
The panel also urged the U.N. Security Council to consider measures to regulate Eritrea’s opaque gold mining sector, which it said has generated hundreds of millions of dollars.
The Monitoring Group recommended that the Council either ask Eritrea to publish its revenues from gold mining or demand that private gold companies publish all payments to Asmara or pay into a monitored escrow account.
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EXCERPTS FROM THE U.N. SEMG REPORT ON SOMALIA MENTIONING ERITREA
- Meanwhile, the relative importance of Eritrea as a source of military and financial support for armed groups appears to have declined.
- Enhanced international scrutiny of Eritrea’s actions in Somalia and the region, growing friction in Eritrea’s relationship with Al-Shabaab and the absence of other viable armed opposition groups all appear to have contributed to this trend.
- The Monitoring Group has found no evidence to substantiate allegations that Eritrea supplied Al-Shabaab with arms and ammunition by air in October and November 2011. However, the SEMG has established that Eritrea maintains relations with known arms dealers in Somalia and has violated the arms embargo during the course of the mandate by its support for Ethiopian armed opposition groups passing through Somali territory.
“52. The relative importance of Eritrea as a source of military and financial support for armed opposition groups appears to have declined. Enhanced international scrutiny of Eritrea’s actions in Somalia and the region, growing friction in Eritrea’s relationship with Al-Shabaab and the absence of other viable armed opposition groups have all contributed to this trend.
“53. The Monitoring Group has found no evidence to substantiate allegations that Eritrea supplied Al-Shabaab with arms and ammunition by air in October and November 2011 (see Annex 5.1). However, the Group has established that Eritrea maintains relations with known arms dealers in Somalia and has violated the arms embargo during the course of the mandate by its support for of Ethiopian armed
opposition groups passing through Somali territory.
“54. The activities of private security companies (PSCs) and their state or corporate sponsors is of growing concern. Two such companies are currently engaged in support to private Somali militias (a third company ceased operations in early 2011), whose primary purpose is to safeguard narrow commercial and political interests. The extension and possible expansion of this trend over the long term could have grave implications for the security and stability of Somalia.”
“77. During the course of the mandate, Ethiopia, France, Sudan, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the United Nations and the United States have all provided support to Somali security sector institutions without providing prior notice or obtaining advance authorization from the Committee. Such actions potentially violate the arms embargo imposed pursuant to Security Council resolution 733 (1992) and contravene the procedures stipulated by resolution 1772 (2007) regarding the provision of support to Somali security sector institutions.”
ARMS EMBARGO VIOLATIONS BY AIR
“4. On 29 October 2011, a member of the Transitional Federal Parliament, Muhamud Abdullahi Waliye Waqa, declared to Radio Gaalka’yo that a plane carrying arms from Eritrea had landed the same day at Baidoa International Airport.”
“5. ‘Waqa’s’ allegations were echoed by an intelligence report from a military source, stating: it’s confirmed that flight carrying AA [anti-aircraft weapons] for AS in Baidoa did landed [sic] on the evening of Saturday [29 October 2011] at around 17-17:45hrs, and that the passengers of two vehicles from the Al-Shabaab regional office in Baidoa boarded the return flight.”
“6. A second report, compiled by a security-related organisation, asserted that a cargo civilian plane medium size landed in Baidoa airstrip carrying military supply on 30 October 2011 at 1430 local time; according to the author, the plane was on ground for 130hrs, and a very high number of anti-aircraft guns supply were offloaded in a speedy condition [by] a very big number of AS militia.
“7. On November 1st, Kenyan Defence Force spokesman Emmanuel Chirchir issued a statement: On 1 November 2011, we reliably confirmed that two aircraft landed in Baidoa with arms consignment intended for Al- Shabaab. The next day he issued a second statement: We can positively confirm that another aircraft with weapons has landed in Somalia. On 8 November 2011, the Government of Kenya wrote a letter to the Chair of the Security Council Committee on Somalia and Eritrea, drawing upon these reports, and asserting: Available information indicates that the arms emanated from Eritrea. Both the Eritrean government and Al-Shabaab rejected these allegations.”
“8. An international organization with contacts on the ground in Baidoa confirmed to the Monitoring Group the forced displacement of population from the airport perimeter on those dates, but denied that any aircraft had landed. Officials of three foreign governments with access to their own internal intelligence reports also separately shared with the Monitoring Group their assessments that no flights to Baidoa had taken place on those dates.”
“9. On the basis of information received, the Monitoring Group believes that the Al-Shabaab administration in Baidoa did indeed give instructions or IDPs to leave the vicinity of the airport compound, suggesting that some flights may have been expected. However, the Monitoring Group has found no evidence to substantiate the allegations that one or more aircraft landed at Baidoa international Airport between 29 October and 3 November 2011, or that Eritrea supplied by air Al-Shabaab in Baidoa with arms and ammunition during the same period.”
“10. The Monitoring Group has on several occasions requested that the Kenyan government provide the Monitoring Group with evidence substantiating its claims that during the first week of November 2011 three planes landed in the Somalia town of Baidoa. To date, however, no reply has been forthcoming.”
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THE FULL REPORT OF THE U.N. SEMG CAN BE FOUND HERE
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