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UN Eritrea Sanctions Pass 13-0-2, Russia & China But Not S. Africa Abstain, Eritrea Not Heard, Addis Attack "Not Proven"

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, December 5 -- As UN Security Council members gathered Monday after to vote new Eritrea sanctions, neither the President, Foreign Minister or even Permanent Representative to the UN of Eritrea had been heard from.

  Once the meeting began, Gabon was the only member to speak before the vote, urging all members to vote for the sanctions resolution.

  When the vote was called, 13 hands went up yes -- including to the surprise of some, South Africa -- and two hands went up in abstention: Russia and China.

  Both countries have longstanding critiques of sanctions. To different degrees so do India, Brazil and South Africa. But all three of these IBSA countries voted for the sanctions; only South Africa offered an explanation of vote.

  In these ritual explanations of vote, Nigeria explained why it was Gabon's co-sponsor on the resolution. German Permanent Representative Peter Wittig said that Eritrea is isolating itself including, he said, by not working with the European Union.

  South Africa's Doctor Mashabane expressed hope that the sanctions won't hurt the livelihoods of Eritreans; he said South Africa had tried to avoid "collective punishment." Some wondered why South Africa didn't abstain. It is not a small question.

  The US Mission to the UN emphasized that all of the Security Council's African members had voted for the resolution; on her way out of the Council, US Ambassador Susan Rice told Inner City Press again, it is a clear message.

  Nevertheless, two permanent members of the Council abstained. China's Li Baodong said that sanctions often don't work; he said that China has abstained in the past and did so again today. He decried the rush to vote in this case.

  US Ambassador Susan Rice took the floor citing back to the sanctions imposed in December 2009, saying that Eritrea still hasn't settled its land dispute with Djibouti. She said that the Eritrean government has been extorting from its diaspora.

  Last week, a self-described senior Western diplomat used this same word, extortion, referring to Eritrea trying to tax the incomes of its overseas citizens. But other countries do that; just as other countries have land disputes.

  France's Permanent Representative Gerard Araud took the floor and also referred to Eritrea's land dispute with Djibouti. Unsaid was that France has a base in Djibouti, and has been reported to be involved in murky military activities in Somalia, just as it air-dropped weapons into Libya despite a Security Council arms embargo.

  As the last speaker, because this month's Council president, Russia's Vitaly Churkin took an indirect swipe at how the Council's Libya resolutions were interpreted or abused, saying he's abstained this time because of language that could be subject to double interpretation.

  Churkin also said that the Security Council wasn't given sufficient proof of Eritrea allegedly trying to attack the African Union summit in Addis Ababa. Then he closed the meeting.

  Three countries spoke at the UN Television stakeout after the vote: the US, Russia and finally South Africa. Inner City Press asked Susan Rice about Eritrea's critique that to invite the President to speak Monday morning, with the sanctions resolution "in blue" to be voted in the afternoon without changes, didn't feel like due process.

  Rice said that Eritrea had been given a chance in the summer, through its foreign minister, and had visas to come today, including one for President Isaias. Transcript below.

  Russia's Churkin, when asked by Inner City Press, said that the gap between morning and the afternoon vote was a "period of reflection" -- but only on how to vote, not on changing the resolution, it seems. The process, as has been said, left a lot to be desired including in terms of due process. Video here.

(c) UN Photo
Abstainers V. Churkin & Li Baodong, Isaias not shown or heard

  Inner City Press asked Rice about Churkin's statement that there wasn't sufficient proof that Eritrea tried to attack the AU summit. Rice said it's in the Experts' Report, and that Ethiopia had offered ambassadors in Addis Ababa more proof.

When Inner City Press asked Churkin about his doubts, he said that the Council wasn't given probative information. South Africa's Mashabane, when asked by Inner City Press, said the Experts Report was inconclusive. He said it could be discussed at the African Union summit.

  There, a choice will be made to give Jean Ping of Gabon a second term atop the AU, or to give the post to South Africa's former minister Ms. Zuma. We'll have more on all this. Watch this site.

From the UN Mission to the UN's transcript:

Inner City Press: Ambassador, they also seemed to say - they said it sort of lacked due process, to have the resolution already in blue and going to be voted on. Sort of like, what was the point of talking if everything was already set up with no chance to go and check with capitals or to reconsider the resolution?

And I wanted to ask you one other thing about what Russia said. Russia said that there wasn't sufficient proof provided of this alleged plot to attack the AU summit in Addis. Do you think there was sufficient proof in front of the Council on that matter?

Ambassador Rice: Let me address both those matters. First of all, you'll recall that Eritrea requested to address the Council last summer. It sent its Foreign Minister and a senior presidential adviser. We spent a couple of hours with Eritrea and other IGAD delegations, hearing their viewpoints. This was soon after the Monitoring Group report was made available. They had an opportunity to address those allegations. We had a discussion and a very full exchange of views. So, there was not any absence of opportunity for the members of the Council to hear Eritrea's point of view and that of other regional states to inform our deliberations.

The Eritreans had the opportunity to be here again today and make their case. They chose not to do so. The other IGAD states took that opportunity, I think, to good effect. With respect to the Somalia-Eritrea Monitoring Group evidence regarding the plot - the thankfully foiled plot - and planned attack on the African Union Summit in January, the evidence provided by the Monitoring Group we know to be very compelling and we have every confidence in its full veracity.

The Ethiopian Government enabled every embassy in Addis Ababa that wished to come and view the evidence themselves. Some took the opportunity to do so; others didn't. I don't understand the basis for Russia's claim that the evidence was not available or not compelling. From the United States' point of view, we have every confidence in the veracity of that evidence.

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

Click here for Sept 26, 2011 New Yorker on Inner City Press at UN

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