* Original draft would have banned mining investment
* Eritrea president invited to address council on Monday
* UN says Eritrea supports Somali Islamists, Asmara denies
By Patrick Worsnip
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 2 A resolution tightening
sanctions on Eritrea, expected to be passed by the U.N.
Security Council next week, has been watered down and no longer
bans investment in the country's promising mining sector.
In an unusual arrangement, Eritrean President Isaias
Afewerki has been invited to address the council on Monday
morning but not to take part in an afternoon session scheduled
to pass the resolution, diplomats said on Friday.
A spokesman for the U.S. mission, Mark Kornblau, said a
U.S. visa for Isaias to come to New York was approved on
Friday. Diplomats said it was unclear whether he would arrive,
after Asmara complained the invitation had given him too little
The original draft of the resolution, circulated by Gabon
in October, would have banned foreign firms from investing in
Eritrea's mining industry, outlawed imports of its minerals and
sought to block payment of a tax Eritrea puts on remittances
from its nationals abroad.
The measures add to existing sanctions, including an arms
embargo, passed against the Horn of Africa state two years ago
in retaliation for its alleged support of Islamist rebels in
Somalia. Eritrea denies the allegation.
The latest version of the text, obtained by Reuters, simply
requires countries to make their companies involved in mining
in Eritrea exercise "vigilance" to ensure funds derived from
the sector are not used to destabilize the region.
On remittances, the draft calls on states to act to ensure
Eritrea ceases "using extortion, threats of violence, fraud and
other illicit means to collect taxes outside of Eritrea from
its nationals." It also "condemns" Eritrea for using a
remittance tax to fund mischief in the Horn of Africa.
Eritrea is seen to be on the brink of a minerals boom that
could revive its struggling economy, while remittances it gets
from its large diaspora in the West and Middle East are its
biggest source of foreign exchange.
The country's most advanced mining project, Bisha, believed
to contain gold, copper and zinc, is run by Canada's Nevsun
Resources Ltd . Earlier this year, Eritrea granted
Australia's Chalice Gold Mines two new exploration
licenses in a nearby location.
SUPPORT TO ARMED GROUPS
The push for new sanctions follows a report by a U.N.
monitoring group in July that found Eritrea continued to
provide political, financial, training and logistical support
to al Shabaab and other armed groups in Somalia.
Eritrea's U.N. ambassador, Araya Desta, told Reuters the
allegations were "ridiculous" and the draft resolution
The Inter Governmental Authority on Development, or IGAD,
which groups seven East African states, called in July for more
sanctions to hit the Eritrean mining sector and remittances.
Diplomats said Russia and China opposed such sanctions and
that some European countries and the United States also felt
the original draft was too tough and could penalize the
Eritrea has blamed its rival, Ethiopia, from which it split
away in 1993, for the sanctions drive.
Eritrea asked in October that Isaias be allowed to address
the Security Council to express his opposition to sanctions.
The 15-nation body had been discussing the request since then
and finally issued an invitation this week.
Asmara responded that Monday was too soon and requested a
postponement. But Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, this
month's council president, said there would be no delay. "What
is clear is that the whole thing is going to take place the way
it was agreed," he told reporters.
He said Moscow still had reservations about aspects of the
resolution, but he did not suggest it would not go through.
Diplomats said officials from other countries in the region
that are not on the council - possibly including Ethiopia,
Kenya, Uganda and Djibouti - were expected to address the
council on the issue by video-link on Monday.