Somali leader makes first visit to Eritrea in diplomatic thaw

Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo is said to already be on his way to the country. (Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP)
Updated 28 July 2018

Somali leader makes first visit to Eritrea in diplomatic thaw

  • The two nations have not had diplomatic relations for nearly 15 years
  • Eritrea’s information minister has said the three-day visit comes at the invitation of longtime leader Isaias Afwerki

MOGADISHU: Another diplomatic thaw was underway Saturday in the restless Horn of Africa region as Somalia’s president visited Eritrea for the first time and years of tensions gave way to an embrace.
“Somalia is ready to write a new chapter of its relations with Eritrea,” Abdinur Mohamed, a spokesman for President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, announced on Twitter.
The two nations have not had diplomatic ties for nearly 15 years. Eritrea, one of the world’s most closed-off nations, remains under United Nations sanctions for allegedly supporting the Somalia-based Al-Shabab extremist group. Eritrea denies it.
Eritrea’s information minister, Yemane Meskel, said the three-day visit came at the invitation of President Isaias Afwerki, who has led since independence in 1993. “Both leaders have already held a summit,” the minister said on Twitter, sharing photos of the meeting.
“Wind of change is here to stay in the Horn of Africa,” one Eritrean diplomat, the ambassador to Japan Estifanos Afeworki, said on Twitter.
The visit by Somalia’s leader follows a stunning diplomatic thaw in recent weeks between Eritrea and neighboring Ethiopia after more than two decades. Ethiopia under reformist new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed already has asked that the UN sanctions on Eritrea be dropped.
The UN secretary-general has indicated that the sanctions could be obsolete.
The changing relations in the Horn of Africa region are of interest to the wealthy Gulf states just across the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. Already they have been jostling for influence in the African nations along one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, including both Somalia and Eritrea. Landlocked Ethiopia also eyes both countries’ ports as outlets for its fast-growing economy.
The United Arab Emirates, which set up a military base at Eritrea’s post of Assab after a Saudi-led coalition launched its war against Shiite rebels in Yemen in 2015, has played a role in mending relations between Eritrea and Ethiopia, in recent days hosting the leaders of both countries and praising their “bold” gestures.
Somalia remains fragile under the threat of Al-Shabab, which holds some rural areas and often carries out high-profile suicide bombings in the capital, Mogadishu. A truck bombing in October killed more than 500 people in the deadliest attack in the country’s history.


‘Disturbing’ allegations of rape in Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict: UN

Updated 22 January 2021

‘Disturbing’ allegations of rape in Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict: UN

  • A UN representative said she was greatly concerned by serious allegations from the northern region

ADDIS ABABA: The UN says it has received “disturbing” reports of sexual violence and abuse in Ethiopia’s conflict-hit Tigray region, including of individuals forced to rape members of their own family.
Pramila Patten, the UN’s special representative on sexual violence in conflict, said she was greatly concerned by serious allegations from the northern region, including “a high number of alleged rapes” in the Tigrayan capital Mekele.
“There are also disturbing reports of individuals allegedly forced to rape members of their own family, under threats of imminent violence,” Patten said in a statement Thursday.
“Some women have also reportedly been forced by military elements to have sex in exchange for basic commodities.”
Patten called on all parties involved in the hostilities to commit to a zero-tolerance policy for crimes of sexual violence.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, announced military operations in Tigray in early November, saying they came in response to attacks by the regional ruling party on federal army camps.
Abiy declared victory after federal forces entered the regional capital in late November, though leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) remain on the run and have vowed to fight on.
Thousands have died in the conflict, according to the International Crisis Group, though a communications blackout and media and humanitarian access restrictions have made it difficult to assess the situation on the ground.
In her statement Thursday, Patten noted that “medical centers have indicated an increase in the demand for emergency contraception and testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) which is often an indicator of sexual violence in conflict.”
She called for full humanitarian access to Tigray, including camps for displaced people “and refugee camps where new arrivals have allegedly reported cases of sexual violence.”
She voiced concern about “more than 5,000 Eritrean refugees in and around the area of Shire living in dire conditions, many of them reportedly sleeping in an open field with no water or food, as well as the more than 59,000 Ethiopians who have fled the country into neighboring Sudan.”
The caretaker administration in Tigray did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Earlier this month state television broadcast footage of a meeting during which an unidentified man in a military uniform expressed concern about rapes in Mekele.
“Why are women being raped in Mekele city?” the man said.
“It wouldn’t be shocking had it been happening during the war, because it is not manageable so it could be expected. But at this moment while federal police and local police are back in town, it is still happening.”