Ethiopia: Iranian Friends


February 26, 2010: Several years ago Eritrea began developing a strategic relationship with Iran. As both nations have become more isolated, that relationship has strengthened. Iran can already close the Strait of Hormuz (temporarily, with mines). Eritrea sits on the Bab al Mandab (Gate of Tears), the strait between the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. This is a major route for international shipping traffic (to and from the Suez Canal). Yemen, which is at war with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and its own Shia rebel tribes (which receive help from Iran) lies on the other side of the Bab al Mandab. Recently, a brief border war erupted between Eritrea and Djibouti over control of a peninsula that was right on the Bab al Mandab. Eritrea was sending a strategic message. Closing the Strait of Hormuz is a tough project and so is closing the Bab al Mandab – but just threatening to close either sends a strategic message and certainly affects shipping costs and stock markets.

February 20, 2010: Eritrea has a reputation as a gathering place for a variety of radical groups and shady operations. Think of it as an outlaw haven. For example, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eealam (LTTE, separatist rebels in Sri Lanka) had a representative in Eritrea, and there is evidence that Eritrea provided the LTTE with weapons, or at least served as a conduit for weapons to the LTTE. This is why a Russia media report that Eritrea has been a transshipment point for weapons going to Sudan's Darfur rebels is not a big surprise. A Ukrainian company allegedly shipped light weapons (small arms) and possibly some artillery through Eritrea to South Sudan rebels. This transshipment, of course, violates UN arms supply sanctions on Darfur, but then Eritrea regards the UN as favoring Ethiopia in various Eritrean-Ethiopian disputes. For what it is worth, Ukrainian companies have supplied the Sudanese government with weapons, including tanks.

February 16, 2010: Ethiopia's long-awaited helicopter detachment arrived in Sudan (South Darfur) and reported to duty with UNAMID (African Union-UN peacekeeping force in Darfur). The detachment consists of five MI-35 tactical helicopters. The choppers are supported by a ground team of around 200 personnel.

An Eritrean rebel website claimed that fighters in the Red Sea Afars Democratic Organization (RSADO) had attacked an Eritrean military post. The group claimed it killed 17 Eritrean Army soldiers belonging to Eritrea's 28th Brigade. Afars live in Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Eritrea. The Eritrean government says groups like RSADO are backed by Ethiopia.

February 11, 2010: Former members of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), an Ethiopian rebel group, are now saying that internal divisions and rivalries have hampered the Oromo movement. One former senior leader went even further and said that the internal fights had destroyed the organization. Ethnic Oromos make up 35 to 40 percent of Ethiopia's population. A number of OLF fighters surrendered to government forces in 2009.


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