International flags wave below the Secretariat building at the United Nations headquarters (Photographer: Daniel Barry/Bloomberg News)

UN Lifts Decade-Old Sanctions on Eritrea After Peace Deal

(Bloomberg) -- The United Nations lifted almost decade-old sanctions on Eritrea, potentially boosting the once-isolated Red Sea nation’s economy as it rebuilds relations with giant neighbor and long-time foe Ethiopia.

The UN Security Council’s move ends restrictions first imposed in 2009 on accusations Eritrea backed armed groups including al-Shabaab in Somalia. Eritrea has long decried the claims as baseless and politically motivated, while UN investigators said they’ve found no evidence of support for the Somali al-Qaeda affiliate over the past five years.

“The government of Eritrea welcomes this belated decision to redress injustice, almost a decade after nefarious acts were taken inculcating indefensible harm on the country,” the Information Ministry said Wednesday on Twitter, shortly after the announcement. The Security Council voted unanimously to remove the arms embargo, travel bans, asset freezes and other targeted sanctions.

The step could help Eritrea, which a government survey says is home to 3.2 million people, unlock opportunities for its mainly agrarian economy where few foreign companies operate and that’s mostly isolated from the international banking system. The one-party state, roughly the size of Pennsylvania, enacts mandatory conscription for adults and in recent years has been a major source of migrants fleeing to neighboring nations and Europe.

‘Season for Peace’

Eritrea in July signed a peace accord with Ethiopia, ending a stalemate following a 1998-2000 war that claimed as many as 100,000 lives, and Ethiopian rebels hosted by Eritrea’s government have returned home. As it rebuilds relations with Somalia and neighboring Djibouti, President Isaias Afwerki, who’s ruled since independence from Ethiopia in 1993, has hailed a “season for peace” in the Horn of Africa region.

The office of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed congratulated Eritrea on “a significant step towards deepening the economic, social, and cultural ties the sisterly nations of Ethiopia and Eritrea enjoy.”

The UN resolution urged Eritrea and Djibouti to discuss the issue of Djiboutian combatants missing in action after border clashes between the two countries in 2008 and to continue efforts to settle the boundary dispute peacefully.

UN investigators this year reported they’d found no further details regarding the Djiboutian soldiers’ fates or whereabouts. They also said that a military base in Eritrea used by the United Arab Emirates contravenes the arms embargo.

Even as it said it was turning “the page of this dark chapter,” Eritrea’s Information Ministry criticized what it described as the country’s needless victimization.

“The UNSC shoulders a responsibility of effecting amends to the wrongs done; above and beyond the lifting of the sanctions,” it said, without specifying what that would entail. “The government and people of Eritrea will not thus abandon their efforts for truth and justice with the mere lifting of the sanctions.”

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