“The ‘preposterous lies’ behind Eritrea’s alleged support to South Sudan rebels are deliberately peddled for two reasons: to portray Eritrea as a”regional spoiler” in order to maintain the unlawful sanctions and the other is for the relentless defamation campaign to keep Eritrea “constantly on the defensive” and thereby eclipse the issue of occupation.” – Yemane Gebremeskel, Director of Eritrean President Office
By The Economist,
Event: Eritrea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has denied allegations that it has been militarily supporting South Sudan’s rebel leader, Riek Machar.
Analysis: The suggestion that the Eritrean government was backing the rebel movement led by South Sudan’s former vice‑president, Mr Machar, was dismissed as a “preposterous lie” by the foreign ministry in a statement released on March 10th.
The denial came a day after media reports from Bor, the capital of South Sudan’s Jonglei state, indicated that Eritreans living in the town were being threatened because of rumours that Eritrea was supporting Mr Machar, an allegation made before the US Congress subcommittee on Africa in late February by a prominent US human rights activist, John Prendergast.
Eritrean support for insurgents in Somalia—also denied by Eritrea—led to UN sanctions being imposed on Eritrea in 2009 and again in 2011, and the latest report from the UN Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group in July 2013 indicated that Eritrean military intelligence had been operating covertly in the South Sudanese capital, Juba.
Peace talks between South Sudan’s government and Mr Machar’s faction are due to resume in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on March 20th, and the suggestion of Eritrea’s support for Mr Machar has raised concerns that South Sudan might become another proxy arena in which the long‑standing tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea are played out. However, the motivation for Eritrea to pursue a proxy conflict with Ethiopia in South Sudan is unclear given that a destabilising influence in South Sudan does not pose the same level of security threat to Ethiopia as conflict in Somalia, although Ethiopia has traditionally sourced a lot of its oil from South Sudan.
Eritrea will also be concerned that the allegation of its involvement in South Sudan will undermine any hopes of the UN sanctions being relaxed, following calls to that effect from several former senior US diplomats in January.
Impact on the Forecast:
Irrespective of the veracity of the allegations, we maintain our view that the prospects of UN sanctions on Eritrea being lifted during our 2014‑15 outlook period are slim. Meanwhile, we maintain our forecast that the conflict in South Sudan will be protracted, complicated by wider regional tensions.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Eritrea Slams South Sudan Rebel Leader Riek Machar
On the 26th of February, John Prendergast of the US lobby group Enough and a well known Ethiopian regime supporter, gave a false statement before the US Congress’ Subcommittee on Africa. He said:
“South Sudan’s eruption has threatened to regionalize the war in ways not seen since the 1990s. On the one hand, Uganda has overtly intervened militarily in support of Juba’s government. On the other hand, allegations are increasing that both Eritrea and Sudan are covertly providing support to the South Sudanese opposition forces, though firm evidence has yet to emerge. Sudan’s history of supporting some of the ringleaders of South Sudan’s armed opposition is deep, and South Sudan supported Sudanese rebels are alleged to be siding militarily with Juba’s forces in areas near the border of the two countries. Both countries still remain deeply interconnected and in many ways interdependent, and neither can be at peace if its neighbor is at war. Ethiopia has strongly warned Uganda to pull out its forces, with an unknown “or else” attached.”
Predictably, Prendergast does not disclose why he believes the unsubstantiated allegations are worth investigating or where they came from (hint, Ethiopia!). His allegations are completely divorced from the reality in South Sudan. But as a lobbyist, getting the facts right isn’t necessarily important; persuading U.S. officials to do the bidding of his client (Ethiopia), is.
What Prendergast conveniently didn’t tell the Congressional Subcommittee on Africa is Eritrea has been one of the biggest outspoken critics of Riek Machar. This point was made clear when President Isaias Afwerki’s held an interview with state media on the 9th of February 2014. He said:
“Our stand is crystal clear. What is said in relation to the tribal problems in South Sudan is nonsense. It is really surprising that Riek Machar stayed that long in the leadership. After Eritrea became an independent state, that is, since we became involved in the issues concerning South Sudan, especially from mid 1990s onwards, John Garang used to assert that the concerns in South Sudan (the demand for autonomy) could only be addressed keeping the unity of Sudan in mind. At that time, Machar’s strong belief was reverse – the autonomy of South Sudan could only be possible if South Sudan becomes independent state. Hence at that time, there were two different perspectives. Machar’s selfishness and narrow-mindedness is beyond measure. Then after some time, Machar went to Sudan and started to preach the reverse by reciting the motto: ‘Peace from within’. Such contradiction is very shameful.“
Even before criticizing Machar on national TV, Eritrea was transparent about their support for President Kiir since the early stages of the conflict. During a 3-day working visit to Eritrea in January, Sudanese president Omer Hassan Al-Bashir and his Eritrean counterpart Isaias Afewerki announced their political support for the Juba administration.
To their credit, South Sudan understands these false rumors being circulated by lobbyists and anti-Eritrean pseudo-journalists, are bogus. Last week, President Kiir sent a letter with his visiting Presidential envoy to Asmara that read:
“Eritrea is a true, consistent friend of South Sudan; we are determined to cement relations.“
On his part, President Isaias reassured the South Sudanese Presidential envoy that “Eritrea’s commitment, support to the people, government of South Sudan is unwavering.”
While the governments of South Sudan and Eritrea know these false rumors being circulated are part of Ethiopia’s never ending war strategy to harm Eritrea and its people, some citizens in South Sudan, who are frustrated by the conflict, have taken Prendergast’s lies at face value and began to threaten Eritreans in the town of Bor.
“Debesay, who is an Eritrean by origin says that he and his wife have been threatened over the last week by local people in Bor who claim Eritrea is aiding Machar’s rebels by providing them with arms and ammunition.“
To combat the disinformation, a government source said the Eritrean ambassador to South Sudan, Mr. Girmai Gebremariam, has appeared on state TV to dismiss these false rumors, and to remind the people that Eritrea’s support for South Sudan’s government and its citizens is unyielding.
Ambassador Girmai is right. Since independence, Eritrea has always supported South Sudan and its people. In the 1990s, Eritrea trained many SPLA fighters, sent military equipment and Eritrean troops to secure their political independence. As a thank you, the South Sudanese government has partnered with Eritrean businesses, and has kept close ties with Asmara. Therefore, it would make no rational or economic sense for Eritrea to harm this relationship.
So who is Supporting Machar?
It is not clear who is supporting Machar or if anyone is supporting him at all. But if we look at the few clues available, all signs seem to point to Ethiopia. Machar, who is an ethnic Nuer, has close ties with Nuers in Ethiopia. If Ethiopia is supporting Machar, then this wouldn’t be the first time the Ethiopian regime has sided with Nuer militias over other Nilotic ethnic groups in the region.
During the Anuak massacre in 2003, in which the Ethiopian regime killed over 400 Anuak people, Ethiopian Defense Forces partnered with Nuer militias to shoot and kill unarmed Anuaks, including women and children. Even today, the Ethiopian regime uses Nuer militants to spy and conduct raids against the Anuak populations in the Gambela region of Ethiopia.
Perhaps the biggest inking the Ethiopian regime is backing Machar came when Ugandan forces entered South Sudan at the request of the Juba government. Only one African country was adamantly opposed to this: Ethiopia. The Ethiopian regime strongly warned Uganda to pull out its forces, “or else”. Although the Ethiopian regime didn’t specify what the “or else” threat was, it did show it was willing to jeopardize its relations with a friendly country like Uganda over it.
South Sudan’s conflict could be seen as an economic and political opportunity for the regime in Addis Ababa. For the Ethiopian regime, sending troops into South Sudan means more military aid from the West, and more political clout to continue to violate international laws in the region. It could also be a way for the regime to deflect attention from its deteriorating human rights issues by presenting itself as a willing vassal for the West to conduct crises management in the region.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –