Eritrea: Impossible that weapons supplied
Nairobi - Eritrea's ambassador to Kenya said on Friday that there is no proof to back allegations that Eritrea supplied three planeloads of weapons to al-Qaeda-linked militants in Somalia being pursued by the Kenyan army.
Beyene Russom told The Associated Press that it would be impossible for the small, East Africa country to supply weapons because it is under a UN arms embargo and is being monitored by the US government and the UN.
"We can't do that because it is a very complicated operation," Russom said. "We do not have the capacity to bring three planes in two days, crossing the airspace of Djibouti, crossing the Red Sea and entering the Indian Ocean and entering Somalia airspace, unloading and flying back in this highly militarized area."
The US also has a military base in Djibouti, he said.
Kenya sent hundreds of troops into Somalia last month to pursue al-Shabaab, the militants it blames for a string of kidnappings inside Kenya, which it says threaten the country's economy.
Last week Kenya's foreign minister summoned Russom and raised concerns over the possibility that planes from Eritrea supplied militants with weapons.
Russom said the latest accusations fit into a pattern of misinformation against his country which he blames on Ethiopia - Eritrea's longtime foe.
Shortly after he arrived in Kenya in February, Russom said his office was accused of channeling funds to al-Shabaab and using the ambassador's official car to ferry weapons.
He said the accusations have not been proven despite his willingness to waive diplomatic immunity to allow investigations.
The allegations were published in a report by a group of UN experts monitoring the arms embargoes on Eritrea and Somalia.
The report also accused Eritrea of involvement in the July 2010 suicide attacks on people watching the World Cup final in Uganda's capital Kampala in which 76 people were killed, he said.
Though, according to him, Uganda has never accused Eritrea of involvement.
He said Eritrea does not object to Kenya's pursuit of al-Shabaab militants in Somalia, but Eritrea is concerned about what will happen to Somalia after Kenya withdraws.
"Kenya has the opportunity to bring peace in Somalia, to bring all the Somalis together supported by the international community," he said. "Talking for two years is better than fighting for one day."
Russom said the accusations that Eritrea is supporting al-Shabaab started after the country objected to Ethiopia's military invasion of Somalia in 2006 to fight the Islamic Courts Union (ICU).
The Islamic Courts Union was a Somali opposition group that attempted to restore order in Somalia. But the ICU's attempts at governance failed, and the group later gave rise to al-Shabaab.
Warlords overthrew longtime dictator Siad Barre in 1991, plunging the country into anarchy.
Russom said Eritrea wanted Somalis to find peace through discussions and compromise and that was its reason for opposing Ethiopia's invasion.
He said Ethiopia sees a united Somalia as a threat because it is afraid the country will support ethnic Somali rebels in the Ogaden region in Ethiopia's south.
In late 2009, the UN Security Council imposed an arms embargo and other tough sanctions against Eritrea for supplying weapons to al-Shabaab and refusing to resolve a border dispute with neighboring Djibouti, a key US ally in the Horn of Africa.
Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after a 30-year guerrilla war.
It has been feuding over its border with Ethiopia ever since, and uncertainty over its border with the tiny port nation of Djibouti led to hostilities between the countries in the 1990s.
In June 2008, the Security Council condemned Eritrea for launching an attack against Djibouti. The council called for a cease-fire and urged the two countries to withdraw their forces from the border. Djibouti did withdraw, but Eritrea has not.