Sinai remains security challenge; Eritrea complains to UNSC on killings
Dina Ezzat, Saturday 23 Feb 2013
While Islamist militants in Sinai remain a target of security operations, Eritrea complains to the UNSC that a shoot-to-kill policy is in force for African refugees illegally crossing into Israel

Eritrea has sent a complaint to the UN Security Council complaining aboutEgyptian security's shoot-to-kill policy of Eritrean refugees attempting to cross illegally Egyptian borders into Israel, diplomatic sources in NewYork tell Ahram Online.

According to one source, the Eritrean complaint, which was signed by President Isaias Afewerki, suggested that Egyptian authorities are opting for a bloody approach to border control that, in the words of the letter, "violates human rights."

This is the second complaint to be forwarded to the UN Security Councilabout Sinai in less than six months. Last summer Israel complained about a lack of security and border control in Sinai, claiming that the situation undermined Israeli security.

Israel is less upset now with Egypt on Sinai, and according to New York diplomats it is not objecting to theborder control mechanism that Eritrea is complaining about. On the contrary, according to one Egyptian diplomat, Israel "is speaking ratherpositively about the efforts of Egypt to check Islamist militantoperations in Sinai, even if it is underlining the need for more to be done."

During the past few weeks, Egyptian military and police forces upgraded their operations in Sinai. On the one hand, Islamist militant groups have been attacked, and on the other, illicit tunnels built between the long-besieged and impoverished Gaza Strip and Sinai for the smuggling of all sorts of commodities, including basic needs, have been flooded by Egyptian forces.

"Sinai is not clean yet. It would take much more work to clean itcompletely, and it is not easy," said a security source who works in Sinai.
According to this source, there are two reasons why Sinai remains troubled.The first is what he qualifies as "a not so forthcoming willingness on theside of the presidency to apply a firm approach towards Islamists".The second reason, which the source says is more important, are "the strong links between Islamists and Sinai tribes" based on "financial interests and sympathy." "It is the tribes thatprovide them with refuge and ways of escape," he added.

Last August, some 17 Egyptian borders guards were attacked and killed byIslamists during a Ramadan breakfast. Following the attack,President Mohamed Morsi removed the head and his deputy in the SupremeCouncil of Armed Forces (SCAF).

At the time, "Operation Eagle' was initiated to comb Sinai for Islamist militants. President Morsi announced that he "personally" was "leading the operation."

According to military sources, however, its first week aside, theoperation was hesitant in general. "There is a limit to how far we could goin using force to attack militants without causing serious civiliancausalities. This is a concern that prohibited us from opting for toughmilitary choices," said one military source.

The source added that at other times the"state leadership" was not fully supportive of the choices of some military commandors in charge of the operation.

The disagreement between presidency and army on the management of Sinai is an open secret, according to military and political sources. "Theydon't see eye to eye for sure. Sometimes one side succumbs to the wishof the other, and sometimes it goes the other way round," said an informedpolitical source.

Last December, Minister of Defense Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, appointed byMorsi last August, issued a decree restricting the possession of propertyin Sinai to second generation Egyptians. The decree was interpreted by somepolitical sources as the "army's reply" to plans contemplated by thepresidency to sell large parts of property in Sinai to non-Egyptians (somesuggested Qataris and others said Palestinians of dual nationality) for purposes of investment.

Today, the Egyptian mission in New York is trying to convince members ofthe UN Security Council that the killing of Eritrean refugees bysecurity forces in Sinai "is not at all deliberate." Meanwhile, the army is stilltrying to contain the restive Islamist militant spots in the peninsula.

"Sinai is a tough challenge because we know that the only way to fix thesituation there is to pump in massive investment. But there are noinvestment offers coming our way and our economy is far too frail to allowthe state to start a Sinai development scheme that is already there," saida government source.

He added that for the near future Sinai would remain a security rather than "development" file, "even though we know this is not the right approach."