UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Wednesday to lift sanctions against Eritrea following its thaw in relations with Ethiopia and other neighboring countries — but it kept an arms embargo on Somalia and a ban on trade in charcoal, a key source of funds for al-Shabab militants.
The resolution approved by the U.N.’s most powerful body commended “efforts toward peace, stability and reconciliation in the region” sparked by Ethiopia’s reformist prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, who came to power in April and accepted an international commission’s border decision that favored Eritrea.
Ethiopia is the regional power and actions by the country’s leader set off several diplomatic thaws, including one between Eritrea and Somalia. Leaders of Djibouti and Eritrea, which also had a turbulent relationship after multiple border clashes, met with the help of Ethiopia, though there has been no breakthrough.
Ahmed’s office said after the vote that the lifting of sanctions will have far-reaching effects in improving stability and building lasting peace and normal relations in the Horn of Africa region.
“It will further enhance the collaborative gains that have been achieved in the region over the past few months,” the Ethiopian prime minister’s office said.
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.
The Security Council imposed an arms embargo and other tough sanctions on Eritrea in 2009 for supplying weapons to Somalia’s Islamic extremist al-Shabab rebels, who are opposed to the Somali government, and for refusing to resolve a border dispute with Djibouti, a key U.S. ally in the Horn of Africa.
Eritrea’s Charge d’Affaires Amanuel Giorgio called the sanctions “unwarranted punitive measures” and told the council after the vote that “the long overdue call for justice is finally answered.”
He congratulated the people of Eritrea “on this historic day,” and stressed that “Eritreans are extremely joyous and full of pride to have witnessed the recent positive regional developments … (that) mark the beginning of a new dawn.”
“While proud of the region’s capability to resolve intransigent conflicts at unprecedented speed, we are not complacent,” Giorgio said. “Eritrea recognizes that a more difficult and complex task is waiting ahead. It is determined to redouble its own efforts and work closely with its neighbors to build a region at peace with itself.”
The resolution immediately lifts “the arms embargoes, travel bans, asset freezes and targeted sanctions imposed on Eritrea by the Security Council.”
But the Netherlands’ ambassador, Karel van Oosterom, stressed that other demands by the council including that Eritrea “shall cease using illicit means to collect taxes outside of Eritrea” remain valid. The Netherlands has said extortion and threats of force against its large Eritrean diaspora is a sensitive issue that is high on the country’s political agenda.
The resolution urges Eritrea and Djibouti “to continue efforts to settle their border dispute peacefully … by conciliation, arbitration or judicial settlement, or by any other means of pacific dispute settlement” in the U.N. Charter. And it urges the two countries to engage on the issue of combatants from Djibouti missing in action.
The Security Council said, “it will continue to follow developments towards the normalization of relations between Eritrea and Djibouti.”
Djibouti’s U.N. Ambassador Siad Doualeh welcomed the lifting of sanctions against Eritrea, but said third-party mediation “failed to make significant progress toward a settlement” of the boundary dispute.
He reiterated Djibouti’s call for a final settlement by an impartial third party, such as an international arbitration tribunal or the International Court of Justice, of land and maritime boundaries and sovereignty over Doumeira Island.
“But continued stalemate is not an option! We need to expedite the process!” Doualeh said.
As for Somalia, the resolution condemns continuing attacks by al-Shabab in the country and beyond and expresses concern at the presence of affiliates of the Islamic State extremist group “and the security implications of the situation in Yemen for Somalia.”
It commends efforts by Somalia’s federal government to restore key economic and financial institutions and implement anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism measures. But it expresses concern at continued reports of corruption and diversion of public resources, including reports of “alleged financial impropriety” involving members of the government, parliament and opposition.
The resolution extends both the arms embargo on Somalia and the ban on the import and export of Somali charcoal until Nov. 15, 2019, as the council expressed concern that the charcoal trade is providing “significant funding for al-Shabab.”
It condemns al-Shabab’s “increased revenue from natural resources including the taxing of the illicit sugar trade, agricultural production and livestock” and its involvement in the illicit charcoal trade.
Somalia’s U.N. Ambassador Abukar Dahir Osman said the government “looks forward to the beginning of a new chapter of cooperation and partnership with all the countries in the Horn of Africa” — and wants sanctions lifted.
He urged the Security Council to establish “clearly defined benchmarks” for ending sanctions.
Osman said the government also calls for sanctions to target al-Shabab, which continues to receive weapons and resources from abroad.
And he asked why the council hasn’t taken action against construction of a naval base in Berbera in Somalia’s breakaway northern region of Somaliland which he called “a clear violation of the arms embargo.” Somaliland has an agreement with the United Arab Emirates to build a base at the port of Berbera.
Elias Meseret contributed to this report from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia