UN council waters down Eritrea sanctions resolution
Fri Dec 2, 2011 9:27pm GMT
* Original draft would have banned mining investment
* Eritrea president invited to address council on Monday
* UN says Eritrea supports Somali Islamists, Asmara denies
By Patrick Worsnip
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 2 (Reuters) - A resolution tightening sanctions on
Eritrea, expected to be passed by the U.N. Security Council next week,
has been watered down and no longer bans investment in the country's
promising mining sector.
In an unusual arrangement, Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki has been
invited to address the council on Monday morning but not to take part
in a session in the afternoon scheduled to pass the resolution,
diplomats said on Friday.
But there were conflicting reports on whether Isaias got a U.S. visa
to come to New York. It was unclear whether he would attend the
council on Monday or whether the debate and vote on the resolution
would be held then or later in the week.
The original draft of the resolution, circulated by Gabon in October,
would have banned foreign firms from investing in Eritrea's mining
industry, outlawed imports of its minerals and sought to block payment
of a tax Eritrea puts on remittances from its nationals abroad.
The measures add to existing sanctions, including an arms embargo,
passed against the Horn of Africa state two years ago in retaliation
for its alleged support of Islamist rebels in Somalia. Eritrea denies
The latest version of the text, obtained by Reuters, simply requires
countries to make their companies involved in mining in Eritrea
exercise "vigilance" to ensure funds derived from the sector are not
used to destabilize the region.
On remittances, the draft calls on states to act to ensure Eritrea
ceases "using extortion, threats of violence, fraud and other illicit
means to collect taxes outside of Eritrea from its nationals." It also
"condemns" Eritrea for using a remittance tax to fund mischief in the
Horn of Africa.
Eritrea is seen to be on the brink of a minerals boom that could
revive its struggling economy, while remittances it gets from its
large diaspora in the West and Middle East are its biggest source of
The country's most advanced mining project, Bisha, believed to contain
gold, copper and zinc, is run by Canada's Nevsun Resources Ltd.
Earlier this year, Eritrea granted Australia's Chalice Gold Mines two
new exploration licenses in a nearby location.
SUPPORT TO ARMED GROUPS
The push for fresh sanctions follows a report by a U.N. monitoring
group in July that found Eritrea continued to provide political,
financial, training and logistical support to al Shabaab and other
armed groups in Somalia.
Eritrea's U.N. Ambassador Araya Desta told Reuters the allegations
were "ridiculous" and the draft resolution "outrageous."
The Inter Governmental Authority on Development, or IGAD, which groups
seven East African states, called in July for more sanctions to hit
the Eritrean mining sector and remittances.
Diplomats said Russia and China opposed such sanctions and that some
European countries and the United States also felt the original draft
was too tough and could penalize the Eritrean people.
Eritrea has blamed its rival Ethiopia, from which it split away in
1993, for the sanctions drive.
Eritrea asked in October that Isaias be allowed to address the council
to express his opposition to sanctions. The 15-nation body has been
discussing the request since then and finally issued an invitation
Asmara responded that Monday was too soon and requested a delay.
Diplomats told Reuters the United States wanted the meeting to go
ahead on Monday but China, Russia and South Africa were proposing a
two-day delay to allow Isaias to come.
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters Moscow still had
reservations about aspects of the resolution but he did not suggest it
would not go through.
Diplomats said officials from other countries in the region that are
not on the council - possibly including Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and
Djibouti - were also expected to address the council on the issue next
week. (Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau at the United Nations
and Aaron Maasho in Addis Ababa; Editing by John O'Callaghan)
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Received on Fri Dec 02 2011 - 22:27:02 EST