March 17th 2014
Eritrea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has denied allegations that it has been militarily supporting South Sudan’s rebel leader, Riek Machar.
The suggesting that the Eritrean government was backing the rebel movement led by South Sudan’s former vice‑president, Mr Machar, was dismissed as a “preposterous lie” by the foreign ministry in a statement released on March 10th. The denial came a day after media reports from Bor, the capital of South Sudan’s Jonglei state, indicated that Eritreans living in the town were being threatened because of rumours that Eritrea was supporting Mr Machar, an allegation made before the US Congress subcommittee on Africa in late February by a prominent US human rights activist, John Prendergast. Eritrean support for insurgents in Somalia—also denied by Eritrea—led to UN sanctions being imposed on Eritrea in 2009 and again in 2011, and the latest report from the UN Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group in July 2013 indicated that Eritrean military intelligence had been operating covertly in the South Sudanese capital, Juba.
Peace talks between South Sudan’s government and Mr Machar’s faction are due to resume in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on March 20th, and the suggestion of Eritrea’s support for Mr Machar has raised concerns that South Sudan might become another proxy arena in which the long‑standing tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea are played out. However, the motivation for Eritrea to pursue a proxy conflict with Ethiopia in South Sudan is unclear given that a destabilising influence in South Sudan does not pose the same level of security threat to Ethiopia as conflict in Somalia, although Ethiopia has traditionally sourced a lot of its oil from South Sudan. Eritrea will also be concerned that the allegation of its involvement in South Sudan will undermine any hopes of the UN sanctions being relaxed, following calls to that effect from several former senior US diplomats in January.
Impact on the forecast
Irrespective of the veracity of the allegations, we maintain our view that the prospects of UN sanctions on Eritrea being lifted during our 2014‑15 outlook period are slim. Meanwhile, we maintain our forecast that the conflict in South Sudan will be protracted, complicated by wider regional tensions.