UN Security Council considers lifting sanctions on Eritrea

United Nations Security Council
United Nations Security Council

Eritrea is hoping that the U.N. Security Council will soon lift sanctions it imposed on the East African nation in 2009, now that its relations have thawed with Ethiopia and other neighboring countries.

Ethiopia formally submitted a request to the United Nations to lift a decade-old sanctions imposed on Eritrea.

The Security Council imposed an arms embargo and other tough sanctions on Eritrea for supplying weapons to al-Shabab Islamic militants opposed to the Somali government and for refusing to resolve a border dispute with neighboring Djibouti, a key U.S. ally in the Horn of Africa.

A draft resolution obtained by The Associated Press would lift the arms embargoes, travel bans, asset freezes and targeted sanctions imposed in late 2009. It also urges Eritrea and Djibouti “to continue efforts to settle their border dispute peacefully in a manner consistent with international law” and to engage on Djibouti combatants missing in action.

“If the reasons that led to the sanctions will no longer exist … they will naturally become obsolete,” UN’s Secretary General, Antonio Guterres told reporters in June 2018 when they started discussions.

The Security Council met privately on Monday to hear from its committee monitoring sanctions on Eritrea and Somalia.

The draft resolution would also extend the arms embargo on Somalia until Nov. 15, 2019, as well as a ban on the import and export of Somali charcoal, a key source of income including for al-Shabab fighters.

The Security Council is scheduled to meet Nov. 14 to vote on an Eritrea-Somalia resolution.

Eritrea, a former Italian colony, gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after a 30-year guerrilla war. It had a decades-long border dispute with Ethiopia, including a war from 1998-2000 in which about 80,000 people died.

But the East African region saw an unprecedented level of diplomatic activity after Ethiopia’s reformist Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, came to power in April and accepted a border decision by an international boundary commission that favored Eritrea.

The move set off a number of diplomatic thaws, including one between Eritrea and Somalia. Leaders of Djibouti and Eritrea, which also had a turbulent relationship after multiple border clashes, met in recent weeks with the help of regional power, Ethiopia, though no breakthrough was announced.

“The final decision will be made on November 14 . but the early signals coming out from New York are positive indeed,” Eritrea’s Minister of Information, Yemane Gebremeskel, tweeted on Saturday. “Tribute to Eritrea’s steadfastness and resilience for nine long years.”

But U.N. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said Djibouti is unhappy about the possible lifting of sanctions against Eritrea because their dispute remains unresolved despite the reconciliation between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Eritrea has denied providing any support to al-Shabab and has long accused Ethiopia of spearheading and influencing the sanctions against it. The draft resolution would condemn al-Shabab attacks in Somalia and beyond.

At the United Nations, Equatorial Guinea’s ambassador, Anatolio Ndong Mba, welcomed “the new dynamic in the Horn of Africa.” He said the Security Council committee monitoring sanctions on Eritrea “hasn’t found any evidence” that the country is helping al-Shabab.

“Therefore we are of the opinion that these sanctions should be lifted to send a message of a new dynamic in this Horn of Africa,” he said as he headed into the council meeting. “But what we think also is that Djibouti should be part of all this dynamic.”

The Netherlands’ deputy U.N. ambassador, Lise Gregoire Van Haaren, also a council member, said, “We certainly think a revision of the sanctions is warranted and we should also support the positive developments.”

But at the same time, she noted the Netherlands has a large Eritrean diaspora and said extortion and threats of force against them is “a very sensitive topic.” That is “politically high on the agenda” in her country and must be taken into account in any decision, she said.