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Somali Youth Sequestered in Eritrea: Abuse and Illegality on a Grand Scale

With a little more respect for the law in Mogadishu, I am sure it would be possible to ask a few important questions related to a very curious security relationship that has been developing since at least 2018 between the Federal Government of Somalia and the Government of Eritrea. It is fair to say that Ethiopia is also a significant player in all this, so really we should be thinking about a Tripartite relationship.

President Afwerki, Farmaajo and PM Abiy

There is much secrecy surrounding the security relationship mentioned above and, ever since the war in the Tigray region was launched late in 2020, there have been persistent allegations of Somali troops taking part. For a long time, it had been difficult to confirm the fact that the Somali troops (ostensibly based in Eritrea since 2019 for the purposes of military training) had taken part in the hostilities in Tigray. This all changed, last week, when Congresswoman Ilhan Omar had asked US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Robert Godec, a few key questions on the subject.

The US diplomat was emphatic in his answers as he went on record to say that the Somali troops, who had been trained in Eritrea, had been sighted in the ancient city of Axum in support of the Eritrean military. Mr Godec also reported the fact that there exists an agreement between Somalia and Eritrea, where the latter trains military personnel for the former. Is this part of a wider security relationship? A relationship that also includes Ethiopia? The nature of this relationship must come to light and, ideally, it should be presented to the Federal Parliament of Somalia for scrutiny. Anything short of this would only perpetuate the kind of abuse at the heart of the tale of the young men who had been transported to Eritrea under false pretences.

I personally view the allegations that Somali troops have participated in the conflict as credible. These allegations certainly merit further investigation as far as many well informed people are concerned.

Further to this, what is the nature of the aforementioned secret security relationship between Somalia and Eritrea? How does security training from the notoriously secretive Eritrea better serve Somalia, going forward, than the continuing training and support being provided by the likes of the European Union Training Mission, United Kingdom, and the United States, on the ground in Somalia?

Further still, how are the Somali troops (basically sequestered in Eritrea as I write this) currently doing in terms of their health and wellbeing, now that it has been suggested that their military training in Eritrea had come to an end in September 2020?

These are young men, predominantly from the south of Somalia. They had been originally told that they would be travelling out of Somalia, for employment purposes, to the State of Qatar to be precise! Instead, rather shamefully, the young men had been transported to Eritrea. The Qatari authorities have repeatedly stated that they had no knowledge of this subterfuge. All the same, who had been the responsible party in Somalia in terms of the initiation of this clearly flawed scheme?

Protest against Farmaajo

For the longest time, and in the face of mounting criticism, not to mention the strong and highly emotionally charged protests of the parents of the missing youth, the Government of Somalia had denied the fact that the young men were missing.

It is interesting to note that Eritrea had denied any participation during the early days of the fighting in Tigray. If, as is now well acknowledged, the Eritrean forces had fought in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, did they deploy the Somali troops under their care as shock troops during the initial phase of fighting in northern Ethiopia?

Somalia had once been a closed and hard-line dictatorship long before Eritrea had gained independence from Ethiopia, so the idea that Somalia should now seek instruction from such a polity suggests to me that something has gone terribly wrong in Somalia during recent years.

Somalia needs to embrace universal human rights, and continue to work with the international community whilst charting a path back to stability and openness.

Many questions related to the current plight of the Somali youths currently sequestered in Eritrean military camps must be urgently answered. The facts must come to light, and the young men still alive should be reunited with their loved ones in southern Somalia. That is the very least the authorities in Somalia ought to be doing at this time. A full investigation of the obvious abuses to have occurred in this case should be carried out by competent investigators, followed by appropriate punishment for the parties responsible for the wrongdoing and the shameful abuse of the Somali youths, pressed into fighting for the Eritreans in the Tigray region.

What of the wider relationship involving Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia? This requires further scrutiny. This is a significant moment, I feel, because if there is indeed an agreement between Somalia and Eritrea, where the latter trains military personnel for the former; such an agreement cannot possibly stipulate that the troops being trained are to be part of an invasion of the Tigray region.

This all looks highly irregular. If, as is now becoming clear, the Somali troops under the care and direction of the Eritrean military–who have been waging war in the Tigray region–have entered Ethiopia in support of this Eritrean military offensive, I am convinced that we have a prima facie case of joint venture in the perpetration of war crimes, in the Tigray region, by Isaias (Eritrea); Abiy Ahmed (Ethiopia); and Mohammed Abdullahi (Somalia).

At the very least, this is a sad episode of abuse and illegality on a grand scale.

Lastly, the appalling news that Somali troops had been physically present in Axum is not only a case of bad optics, but it will cause tremendous damage to the future relationship between the people of Tigray and all Somalis.

Guled Osman
Email: [email protected]

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