- The Eritrean ambassador to the United States in a speech in Washington last night maintained Eritrea's special role as a key US ally in the "Coalition of the Willing" in fighting the so-called "war on terrorism". The increasingly isolated country was even fighting al Qaeda on Eritrean soil, the ambassador told his American audience. Eritrea however still is playing second fiddle in the US' regional diplomatic efforts.
Speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, Eritrean ambassador Girma Asmerom yesterday pledged "his country's support in the global terror war," according to a press release from the Eritrean embassy. Mr Asmerom in his speech re-emphasised Eritrea's "support for the United States and the 'Coalition of the Willing'."
Eritrea and Rwanda have been the two African countries most clearly pronouncing their total support to the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, despite an African Union (AU) resolution last year, condemning a unilateral US attack on that country. Both the government of Asmara and of Kigali have aggressively sought to become the leading US allies on the African continent.
Ambassador Girma in his speech said that Eritrea's support to the controversial US-led "war on terrorism" also had been translated into action. "Eritrea has made it clear on a number of occasions that it stands ready to assist the United States in any way it can," he explained.
Eritrea had offered, among other things, its resources, "including the use of its facilities along its 1,200 kilometre strategic Red Sea coastline, two major deep water ports in Assab and Massawa, and the new airport near the port of Massawa that can accommodate any size airplane; blanket flyover rights; and the sharing of intelligence," said Mr Girma.
Eritrea, located in the troubled but strategic African Horn region, is close to where much of the anti-terrorism campaign is organised. The Arabian Peninsula, including Yemen, is just across the Red Sea and Eritrea borders with Sudan and is close to Somalia.
The Eritrean government's plea to become the US' main strategic partner in the region has however not been heard. The US and its allies - including France and Germany - have chosen neighbouring Djibouti as the location of their military and intelligence headquarters in the region.
Further, both Ethiopia and the yet-to-be-recognised state Somaliland have offered the US government their cooperation - including the use of its facilities - to a degree paralleling Eritrea, although in a less noisy manner. In the wider region, the US also counts on the full military support of two partners of its own choice and taste; Kenya and Egypt.
For the US and its traditional European military partners, Eritrea remains a difficult ally to lend its full support. The conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia basically remains unresolved and could at any time break into open warfare again. Neither the US nor its European allies can afford to choose side in this conflict, in particular given Ethiopia's important role on the African continent.
Further, Eritrea has turned into one of Africa's worst dictatorships during the last years, where grave human rights abuses have turned systematic. The Eritrean government is seen as a star example of the growing public opinion in Western countries on how the so-called "war on terrorism" is legitimising human rights abuses in Third World dictatorships.
In his Washington remarks, ambassador Girma turned to exactly this point. Eritrea itself had been "the target of terrorism," Mr Girma maintained. He outlined the activities of so-called "Eritrean terrorist groups," connecting these to America's number one enemy, al Qaeda.
According to ambassador Girma, these groups included the Eritrean Islamic Jihad Movement (EIJM), "which is a member of the umbrella organisation of terrorist groups," and the Eritrean National Alliance (ENA), "which has links to Al-Qaeda and whose members have trained in Afghanistan and Sudan."
The activities of these groups included "the planting of land mines in pastoral and agricultural fields, the shelling of civilian and humanitarian transports, the destruction of public facilities including schools, hospitals, and water supplies, and the cold-blooded murder of innocent civilians," according to the Eritrean ambassador.
- In line with our commitment and contribution to fight terrorism, Eritrea sees itself as linked with the world and the United States in the noble cause to defeat fundamentalism and global terrorism, said Mr Girma. "Indeed, we are charter members of this fight," he added.
Critics however maintain that the Eritrean regime is using the "fight against terrorism" to gag the last remnant of an opposition in the country. Even the US State Department repeatedly has accused Eritrean authorities of systematic human rights abuses, including torture. Instead of growing a closer ally to the US, the Eritrea regime has actually become increasingly internationally isolated during the last years.
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