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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 921

“U.S. Will Declare Eritrea as State Sponsor of Terrorism”, says US Assistant Secretary of State

Daya Gamage – US National Correspondent Asian Tribune

Washington, D.C. 01 September (Asiantribune.com): “The immediate thing that has raised the focus on U.S.-Eritrea relations is the United States has evidence that the Eritreans have been providing military assistance to the Islamic Courts in Somalia, to groups the United States regards as affiliated with al-Qaeda, to groups that are attacking Ethiopia, the U.S. strategic partner in the region. So the United States has ratcheted up the pressure to say “Eritrea, you must stop this assistance you’re providing to these groups that the United States regards as terrorists in the Horn of Africa,” was what Terrance Lyons, Associate Professor of Conflict Resolution, George Mason University told in an interview with Council on Foreign Relations.

In the face of earnest US threat to add Eritrea to the list of states sponsoring terrorists as announced in a briefing two weeks ago by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi E. Frazer made some critical observations of Eritrea.

The assistant secretary indicated that the United States government is likely to declare Eritrea as a ‘State Sponsor of Terrorism’.

The Bush administration is preparing a case to designate Eritrea a "state sponsor of terrorism" for its alleged support of al-Qaeda-linked Islamist militants in Somalia, the top U.S. diplomat for Africa said August 17 press briefing in Washington.

Officials are now compiling evidence of Eritrean backing for the extremists to support the designation, a rare move that would impose severe sanctions on the impoverished nation and put it in the same pariah category as Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Syria, said Jendayi Frazer, the assistant secretary of state for African affairs.

"We have to put together the case against them, that information is being collected right now," Frazer said. "The information so far that we've collected is fairly convincing about their activities in terms of 'state sponsor' of terrorism."

Frazer, speaking at a briefing called to discuss deteriorating relations between the United States and the increasingly authoritarian country, said Washington agreed with a recent report by U.N. experts that found Eritrea to be the primary source of weapons and cash for Islamist insurgents in Somalia.

"We do have intelligence that affirms what's in the monitoring report," she said, adding that while the information is being collected Eritrea has a chance to change its behavior and avoid the designation. "What we cannot tolerate is their support for terror activity, particularly in Somalia."

The U.N. report says the Islamist insurgents in Somalia have enough surface-to-air missiles, suicide vests and explosives to sustain their war against the internationally backed Somali government, largely due to secret shipments from Eritrea.

It says Eritrea has shipped a "huge quantity of arms" to the insurgents, known as the Shabab. The shipments continued despite U.N. efforts to bring peace to Somalia and the deployment of African Union peacekeepers.

The "state sponsor of terrorism" designation is rarely used and represents a near death sentence for diplomatic relations with the United States. Those on the list are banned from receiving all non-emergency U.S. aid and subject to a host of financial sanctions. It also penalizes people, firms and third countries that engage in trade with designees.

Earlier this month, the State Department ordered the closure of Eritrea's consulate in Oakland, Calif., in retaliation for curbs placed on U.S. diplomats in Eritrea.

In a report prepared by the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee last December it was alleged that Eritrean government was providing direct assistance to Sri Lanka’s separatist Tamil Tiger rebels.

Professor Lyons continued to analyze the situation saying:

“U.S.-Eritrea relations are at as low a level as you can imagine. Rhetoric coming out of Asmara and the statements coming from the U.S. State Department are similarly very, very tough. Eritrea’s public statements indicate they hold the United States responsible for Ethiopia not implementing the peace agreement that would award Eritrea the symbolically important town of Badme to its side of the border. The Ethiopia-Eritrea border commission had awarded Eritrea with Badme. Ethiopia has been reluctant to comply with that border agreement. Eritrea thinks the United States, which was a guarantor of this agreement, should compel Ethiopia to adhere to it. It’s difficult to compel Ethiopia for starters and, second of all, the United States has multiple interests with the Ethiopians and is reluctant to do so.

“So Eritrea is enormously angry with the United States for that reason and has responded with some quite outrageous behavior, such as insisting on opening U.S. diplomatic pouches and arresting U.S. Foreign Service Nationals who work at the embassy in Asmara. Of course, it is extremely difficult for the United States not to respond. Those problems have been around for a couple of years.

“The immediate thing that has raised the focus on U.S.-Eritrea relations is the United States has evidence that the Eritreans have been providing military assistance to the Islamic Courts in Somalia, to groups the United States regards as affiliated with al-Qaeda, to groups that are attacking Ethiopia, the U.S. strategic partner in the region. So the United States has ratcheted up the pressure to say “Eritrea, you must stop this assistance you’re providing to these groups that the United States regards as terrorists in the Horn of Africa.”

Terrence Lyons, Associate Professor of Conflict Resolution at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University in an interview with the US-based Council on Foreign Relations described the U.S. policy as it stands right now in this manner, and how the U.S. view Eritrea:

“The United States regards Ethiopia as a strategic partner, particularly in relation to the so-called global war on terrorism, and it is not hard to understand why. If you look at the region, [the United States] has tremendous problems with Sudan, and it has relations with Eritrea that are about as bad as they can be. Obviously, the United States can’t have a strategic partner with a government in Somalia while Somalia struggles to organize itself. Djibouti, with which the United States has good relations and has built military facilities in, is tiny and is never going to be the pillar around which the United States builds a regional strategy. So Ethiopia is it. In particular, Ethiopia and the United States share a common concern about the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) in Somalia. The United States linked the ICU to al-Qaeda, while Ethiopia saw the ICU as being linked to its rivals in Eritrea. When in late 2006 and early 2007 the Ethiopians moved into Mogadishu, the United States was very pleased and saw that as a victory in the war on terrorism.”

- Asian Tribune -

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