Inside the glass house

Might is right: Ethiopia moves into Mogadishu; UN helpless
By Thalif Deen at the united nations, Sundaytimes
NEW YORK - When Iraqi President Saddam Hussein invaded neighbouring Kuwait — a longstanding US ally — in August 1990, the invasion of sovereign territory was rightly considered an unforgivable political sin.
The entire international community, led by the US and Western powers, not only called for a withdrawal of Iraqi troops but also punished Iraq with one of the most rigid UN sanctions imposed on any member state.
The defiance of international norms and violation of the UN charter, along with charges of war crimes and genocide, eventually contributed to the Iraqi dictator's downfall — and finally to a verdict of execution by hanging. Never mind the flawed justice system in a US-occupied Iraq. That's another story.
Still, the dictates and rules of the diplomatic game keep changing every year — primarily depending on whether you are a friend or a foe of the US or of Western powers.
The Bush administration has also brandished a new political yardstick: anything is permissible, even the invasion of neighbouring territory, if the military attack has a direct or indirect bearing on the US war on terrorism.
And so, the US refused to support immediate UN action when Israel invaded Lebanon last July. The Security Council remained frozen giving the Israelis more than a month to carry out aerial strikes resulting in the deaths of thousands of civilians in Lebanon.
Firstly, Israel was a strong US ally, and secondly, the Israelis were fighting Hezbollah which is formally declared a "terrorist organisation" by the US.
On both grounds, the US considered a military invasion of Lebanon justified — at least until the Security Council called for a ceasefire a month later.
A similar political and military scenario is playing out in the streets of the Somali capital of Mogadishu where Ethiopia is violating international norms and the UN charter by invading a neighbouring country.
Virtually calling for the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops from Somalia, outgoing UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said last week that "it is essential that neighbouring governments stay out of this." But there has been no response to his plea.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who told Annan that the attack was a "limited" military operation, says between 3,000 and 4,000 Ethiopian troops have "broken the backs" of Islamic forces. But he has given no indication when his troops will withdraw.
A divided UN Security Council is discussing a draft resolution which calls for "all foreign forces (to) immediately withdraw from the territories of Somalia and cease their military operations inside Somalia."
But that paragraph is in dispute because of opposition, primarily from the United States and mostly Western states in the Security Council. As a result, there is no UN action on the invasion of Somalia — not even a condemnation.
The draft resolution, with strong support from Arab League states, is the brainchild of Qatar, a non-permanent member and current president of the Security Council. But it is going nowhere.
The conflict in Somalia was triggered by a long simmering dispute between Somalia's UN-blessed transitional government in Baidoa and the Union of Islamic Court militias who were in control of the capital of Mogadishu till Wednesday.
The Bush administration has been providing support to the transitional government on the ground that the Islamic force has ties to Al-Qaeda.
The New York Times says Ethiopia has the "tacit support" of the US. And the London Financial Times last week quoted a Western diplomat as saying that Ethiopia's military advance into Somalia "appeared to be breaking international protocols and UN Security Council resolutions."
When will Ethiopia be asked to withdraw its troops? And, like Iraq, will it be punished for its infractions and violation of the UN charter? Don't bet on it.
Meanwhile, Ethiopia has also been involved in a longstanding border war with its neighbour Eritrea. Annan has described the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea as "a classic example of tragedy" in the African continent.
"Two poor countries desperately in need of development, desperately in need of food security to be able to protect their people (and who) went to war,?" Annan said last October.
He said the two countries have been at war "over a territory, over a misunderstanding of a region called Badme, which is a barren place."
"They spent hundreds of millions of dollars to buy equipment, to arm their military and they fought," he declared. Since Ethiopia's incursion into Somalia last week, there have also been reports that Eritrea has been sending troops to boost the Islamic forces, thereby threatening to turn the war into a regional conflict.

posted by Ethiounited Moderator at10:18 PM


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