Is latest ‘leaked UN report’ about Eritrea’s destabilization of Horn states real, or its timing Ethiopia’s election masterstroke?

22 Oct

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin – The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)

The Reporter and several other TPLF supporter dailes, weeklies and blogs in Ethiopia and abroad Tuesday and today drew inspiration from a ‘leaked UN report’.

This ‘leaked UN report’ was first made public in a little known TPLF-bankrolled blog – Strategic Thinking on East Africa – which in a typical TPLF fashion swears: “Our tagline is Information You Can Trust.”

Nonetheless, its pledge to report only information we could trust and its excitement have not stopped us from wondering whether the information the so-called ‘leaked UN report’ carries is reliable at all.

Before we proceeded any further, we noticed that the rationale for referring to the Monitoring Group’s report as ‘leaked UN report’ appears senseless. It is our understanding that the first one to flush the report as ‘leaked UN report’ was this same TPLF page, possibly to create sense of scoop, after it had already published other articles based on it on date line of October 21, 2014.

The very UN Monitoring Group report (S/2014/727) was issued on October 13, 2014. However, focusing on the formidable anti-TPLF Tigrean movement in Eritrea, the Horn Affairs was the first to discuss the Demhit side of the report’s content on October 20, without referring to it as ‘leaked report’.

We are also aware that Eritrea had publicly responded to the report attacking its credibility, after one of the Monitoring Group’s member Dinesh Mahtani was caught on record openly advocating regime change in Eritrea.

Anyways, I would preface any remarks I make here, without being oblivious to the enormous capacity of Eritrea’s leadership for underhandedness. I remain certain that Eritrea does not excel guilefulness of its Addis Abeba cousins. It should be clear, therefore, this writer is in no position to vouch for Asmara’s innocence or confirm the motleys of TPLF’s charges.

Similarly, only God Save Ethiopia, this writer has no ties whatsoever with any of the boatload of anti-TPLF movements within and without Ethiopia.
 

How credible is this UN report?

My task has been, as any serious reader who would question any conclusions, to evaluate both the report itself and the news reports it has generated on TPLF and Eritrean pages, linked to the ‘leaked UN report’. To put it curtly, they all are full of propaganda and well of serious distortions. Topping that is their lack of seriousness or even suggestive information to the reality obtaining in both countries. Instead, they used the opportunity to renew their engagement in new wars on their respective media and that of their allies and affiliates.

I am equally disappointed by the quality of the UN report itself, mediocre as it is, filled with contradictory conclusions and partisan snipes, as it kowtows to the TPLF’s interests – not even Ethiopia’s.

For instance, where it discusses Ginbot 7, the UN report in paragraph 78 describes it as “a banned opposition group formed in 2005 by Amhara political elites committed to regime change in Ethiopia through armed struggle.” This is huge distortion, a sacrilege against the sufferings and sacrifices of Ethiopian youth in 2005, who were paid with massacres, instead of a democratic dispensation. Inconsistent as it is, the report could not even look with the same lenses at the need to describe the splinter group from the TPLF – the Tigray People’s Democratic Movement (TPDM – Demhit) by applying the same formula – as an entirely Tigrean business.

For all we know, referring to Ginbot 7 as Amhara is serious mistake, in a country where there are organizations that are established along ethnic lines, including the TPLF itself, the ruling party in Ethiopia. To the best of my information, members of Ginbot 7 leadership from day one have been representatives of the mosaic Ethiopia always has been, if if one could care to check who is where in that organization’s top leadership structure.

Moreover, unlike the TPLF or Eritrea’s People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), at least theoretically Ginbot 7’s ideals and objectives aim at the creation of an independent and democratic Ethiopia, committed to the realization of national unity grounded on freedom, justice, equality, respect for fundamental human rights of each individual citizen and a free economy as the nation’s guiding principles.

Consequently, the fact that the Monitoring Group has chosen in this report to take the TPLF side, including the borrowed language and terminology employed in this regard, shows its willing to collaborate with the TPLF in undermining and isolating each one of the political movements in Ethiopia, from whose discrimination not even churches and mosques have been spared of.

By so doing, therefore, the Monitoring Group has hardly done justice to its mandate, the UN Charter, stature and responsibility of the Security Council that required its services in concert with its terms of reference under resolution 751 (1992) and 1907 (2009).

Incidentally, this is not the first time the Committee’s report has fallen short of international expectations. For instance, Reuters reported on July 15, 2014 a news story that accused the current Somalia leadership (the president, a former minister, a US law firm, etc.) of “conspiracy” to divert Somali assests.

That leaked story was also carried by the BBC, which published it alongside the denial by Somalia officials.

For reasons unknown to this writer, the allegations could not generate interest of those that have the powers to recommend investigations. For all we know, the fate of that report was silent death, save resignation of some not so prominent individuals, according to African Arguments that featured the story in an article by Jay Bahadur under the title The President’s Bank: corruption allegations tarnish Somalia’s brave new world. The resignations were instigated by an earlier news report on an American media, alleging corruption.

Today, Somalia is taking baby steps with every passing day into becoming a full fledged functional state because of the determined international support it is receiving. We dare to state, all this would have come to naught if the international community gave credibility to every ‘report’ by the 8-member monitoring group whose insight by now could have failed that long broken country.
 

Treatment of the report in Ethiopia

A major weekly in Addis Abeba (Amharic), The Reporter in an article Wednesday wrongly implied that Asmara supplied weapons to Somalia’s Al-Shabab, because of which it remains under war materiel and economic sanctions. On the other hand, one thing the Monitoring Group has endeavored to make clear is that it has found no evidence confirming such allegation.

On the contrary, name any opposition group in Ethiopia – including the legal opposition – they are often harassed and accused of being Eritrea’s agents or supporters/members of Ginbot 7, OLF, ONLF, EPPF, etc., – especially a favorite pastime of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn as it was also his late successor’s. Unfortunately, in Ethiopia this habit has taken deep roots and still in this day there are many others suspected of operating to advance Eritrea’s interests at Ethiopia’s expense and are being imprisoned, including several smart and innocent journalists, without the charges against them being verified.

For the record, the leaked UN report speaks only of Ginbot 7, OLF, ONLF, TPDM or Demhit and Gambella Democratic movement and Army (GDMA).

Not surprisingly, the accusations from the Ethiopian side against Eritrea are very strong and with little substantiation – 14 years after the end of their bloody 1998-2000 war between two comrades-in-arms that have jointly conspired to injure Ethiopian sovereignty and render it landlocked.

Across the TPLF media, it is the same shoddy story; it appears it is a further sign that real journalism has washed out of that country. All stories about Eritrea are thus characterized by endless and unsubstantiated blames of Asmara for providing support to anti-TPLF forces.

The story from Eritrea’s end is less likely to be any different. For Asmara too, anything Ethiopia has touched must be its ‘haram’, cause for its revulsion, as could be gleaned from their publications.

Unfortunate as this is, whether ‘superpower Eritrea’ has as much capacity to provide support and succor for the multiplicity of anti-TPLF fronts does not seem to find ways to summon wisdom to stop and think to control the deepening hatred and animosity on both sides.

Am I saying Eritrea is not supporting anti-TPLF forces? Not at all. What worries the TPLF is not what Ginbot 7 is doing. Rather it is what is coming from TPDM, which the report says has force size of 20,000. Notwithstanding the denials, the TPDM is Asmara’s best bet against Ethiopia.

In paragraph 52, however, the Monitoring Group’s report is seen contradicting itself. On one hand, it states that it “has obtained testimonials and evidence that Eritrea continues to support armed opposition groups from neighbouring countries, notably the following in Somalia and Ethiopia.” In that connection, it mentions (a) the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF); (b) The Tigray People’s Democratic Movement (TPDM); and, (c) Ginbot Sebat.

On the other hand, it clearly states that while it bases its conclusion on an assumption about the military support Ginbot 7 receives from Eritrea, in paragraph 85 it has already indicated that it has not found independent corroboration, other than the words of captured or surrendering Ginbot 7 fighters and the weapons in their hands.

More importantly, the report in paragraph 53 hints of “differences in scale and pattern of support that Eritrea is providing to the three armed groups named above.” Both Eritrea and TPDM seem to value their relations, because of which, according to the Monitoring Group’s report in paragraph 75, “Eritrea’s support to TPDM appears to be more sustained and organized than its support for other Ethiopian armed groups.” TPDM is also considered a force with “far more fighting capacity” than other Ethiopian groups.”

What is troubling in such situations is that, Ethiopia feels it has the right to train and arm Eritrean fighters against Asmara, while any such action by Eritrea is considered international crime, subject to action under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

Therefore, the Monitoring Group may hide behind the claim that what Ethiopia is doing is outside its mandate.
 

Eritrea, South Sudan conflict & improving ties with the Sudan

There have been many accusations by South Sudanese officials about the role Eritrea has been playing in the ongoing conflict in that country. TPLF pages make mention of Eritrea having unhealthy role in that unfortunate land, although IGAD has been engaged for over eight months in efforts that have failed to have any effect and bring about peace between the warring factions.

Just like the TPLF, the Juba team also seems to enjoy accusing Eritrea of providing military materiel to the Riek Machar group and the Yau Yau forces in Jonglei State (Cobra Faction).

However, in dispelling this claim, the UN Monitoring Group report in paragraph 15 states “…in the case of South Sudan, the Monitoring Group could not substantiate or confirm the allegations that Eritrea had violated resolution 1907 (2009) by providing military and logistical support to armed rebel groups in South Sudan.”

The Monitoring Group investigated the means of transport, routes, seaports, airports and other facilities by which Eritrea could violate the arms embargo in eastern Sudan and South Sudan. Nothing has come of the South Sudanese claims.

Instead, the report confirms improved relations between Eritrea and the Sudan, including at the level of their officials. It also takes into account the rising level of official and unofficial trade ties between the two states, including amongst local borderland tribes.

In that connection, the report in paragraph 23 sympathetically underlines:

    “The reality for Eritrea, given its adversarial and strained relationship with neighbours Ethiopia and Djibouti, is that the Sudan offers it the only relatively secure route to bring in goods by land, from fuel and household items to weaponry.”

 

Ethiopia & Eritrea

It is important to note from the UN report that the reach of Eritrean hand into Ethiopia is more complicated by unverified assumptions or too much propaganda obscuring the facts. It should be stated that Ethiopia has hardly furnished fresh information, save allegations. Thus the problem the Monitoring Group has faced is scarcity of reliable information, free from any adulteration on all sides.

On the Ethiopian side, the reason for this inadequacy is the fact that Ethiopian pages are writing without fully assuming their responsibilities as journalists. Any article on Eritrea comes as purely anti-Eritrean or excessively pro-Ethiopia. This has made their reporting an internal beauty contest trying to prove who is more loyal to the TPLF. Political and intelligence information that come from the TPLF administration are highly manipulated, which makes all its information shorn of integrity.

As far as the UN report is concerned, from the Sudanese side the Monitoring Group refers in paragraph 42 to an intelligence report. This, it says, has brought to its attention Eritrean support to the Yau Yau rebellion. Initially, this was considered an indirect support for the Gambella Democratic Movement and Army (GDM/A) – an Ethiopian rebel group – to whom Yau Yau had been alleged to have given sanctuary in Pibor County, although Juba has not provided any evidence.

In that context, the report merely states:

    “David Yau Yau provided shelter to GDM/A in exchange for weapons and logistics, while GDM/A enjoyed the protection of David Yau Yau’s forces. This protection enabled GDM/A to recruit Anyuaks within South Sudan in order to launch attacks in western Ethiopia, in the territories of Gambella, Pinyuodo and areas along the Baro River at the border of South Sudan and Ethiopia.”

The Monitoring Group thus concludes in paragraph 43 and 44:

    “Despite the express commitment by South Sudanese authorities that evidence would be provided to the Monitoring Group for inspection and verification, the Group was not given the opportunity to see evidence that the Eritrean Government provided weapons and ammunitions to the Yau Yau rebel forces.

    Senior officials of the Government of South Sudan informed the Monitoring Group that they had captured military and logistical equipment that Eritrea had provided to George Athor’s rebels. Again, despite repeated assurances by South Sudanese officials that they would make the arms available to the Monitoring Group for inspection, the Group was not presented with evidence.”

The Monitoring Group has thus broken no new ground, other than re-confirmation for its own satisfaction that Eritrea’s Col. Fitsum Yitshak has remained in charge of the training of the anti-TPLF Ethiopian armed groups. This is indicated in paragraphs 78 and 79 of the Monitoring Group’s report.

Moreover, the Monitoring Group has repeatedly interviewed a group of captured anti-TPLF regime Ethiopians belonging to Ginbot 7 and that still are in Ethiopian prisons. The conclusion from those interviews appears in paragraph 85, stating the following:

    “The Monitoring Group was unable to independently verify the claims of the former Ginbot Sebat fighters. But based on their corroborating testimonials and the inspection of documents and weapons recovered from them, it appears that Eritrea continues to provide some support to Ginbot Sebat. The Monitoring Group cannot, however, assess the extent of this support as compared with Asmara’s support of Ginbot Sebat in the past.”

While Eritrea’s denial of any of the allegations amounts to nothing, the Monitoring Group has received the usual denials, of the type that Addis Abeba has also been used to making. For instance, weapons seized on captured Ginbot 7 members or those that were seized during their efforts to surrender. On its part, Eritrea said it did not provide any such weapons to any anti-TPLF group. Interestingly, Eritrean officials attributed the sources of the weapons to Ethiopia. At best, their escape both sides rely on is being in possession of each others’ weapons seized during the war. It certainly is plausible but less credible.

Following recent interview regarding the weapons seized on captured Ginbot 7 members, Eritrea’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations told the Monitoring Group “the Government of did not provide evidence to support Ambassador Girma Asmerom Tesfay’s claim that it was in possession of serial numbers of Ethiopian weapons.” While the ambassador did not respond to questions pertaining to the TPDM, he chose to leave it by claiming “Ethiopian armed groups were a creation of Ethiopia’s internal dynamics. He stressed that Eritrea was not engaged in any internal destabilization in Ethiopia.”
 

Conclusion

This UN Monitoring Group report, instead of serving the Security Council’s mission in ensuring protection of international peace and security, it may go long distance in facilitating TPLF’s propaganda and in serving its interest of hijacking outcome of the 2015 election.

I would be the first to admit this is a harsh judgement, but unfortunately drawn from the reality of our country and our region.

Internal and external threats, terrorism and foreign interests have been exploited to the hilt for the past 23 years. These have only resulted in the subjugation and repression of Ethiopians and the denial of their fundamental human rights.

How could it be any different this time around, when a UN report also adds its voice and credence in support of the oppressor?
 

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