Neighbours gang up on Eritrea

2011-12-05 22:25

New York - East African nations are urging the UN Security Council to tighten sanctions on Eritrea, accusing its government of funding and providing arms to terrorist groups destabilising the region.

The presidents of Djibouti, Ethiopia and Somalia, and senior officials from Kenya and Uganda addressed the council by video conference from Addis Ababa on Monday morning and urged members to adopt a resolution strengthening sanctions imposed in 2009.

Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki was also invited to address the council but did not appear or send a representative.

The council has scheduled a vote on Monday afternoon.

UN experts monitoring the sanctions, including an arms embargo, reported in July that Eritrea is continuing to provide support to the Somali militant group al-Shabaab.

According to AFP Eritrea broke away from Ethiopia in 1993 and fought a war with its neighbour from 1998-2000, but Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said "this is not a family quarrel between Ethiopia and Eritrea".

All East African nations consider that "Eritrea is the prime source of instability in our region," Zenawi told the 15-member Security Council in a video link from Addis Ababa where the other leaders were.

"It is a problem of attitude," Zenawi said. "It is a problem of attitude of a certain clique in Asmara that has never grown up from a rebel group. It is a problem of lawlessness and reckless disregard for international law.

"In the absence of the rule of law, in the absence of the Security Council, the implication would be that we are all on our own that we have to defend ourselves or perish. That is not a choice we want to make."

Shoot first, talk later

A UN sanctions monitoring group this year said Eritrea was involved in a plot to bomb an African Union summit in Addis Ababa in January and was giving financial support, arms and training to Somali Islamist rebels and al-Qaeda.

On top of Ethiopia, Eritrea also has territorial disputes with Yemen and Djibouti. When Eritrean forces took some Yemeni islands, they "shot first then started talking," Zenawi said.

Somalia's President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed told the council how he had asked late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi to mediate with Eritrea's hard-line president Issaias Afeworki.

Gadhafi "informed me that that had been rejected. He also informed me that the (Eritrean) president clearly stated that reconciliation with my country would be impossible," Ahmed told the Security Council.

"The regime in Eritrea insists on terrorizing my people," he said.

Shabaab has been accused of carrying out bomb attacks in Kenya and other neighbouring countries and Kenya's Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula said: "Eritrea has been supplying arms and ammunitions and other logistics to Shabaab.

"This is truly a hostile and an enemy act by a country that ought to be an active member" of the East African community," Wetangula said.

Eritrea has strongly denied the accusations made by its neighbours and the UN experts and called the UN resolution "outrageous." No Eritrean official spoke at the meeting however.

Afeworki had asked to personally address the Security Council but did not have time to get to Monday's meeting which was called last Wednesday, Eritrean diplomats said.

The draft sanctions resolution would widen a travel ban and assets freeze against Eritrean individuals and entities passed by the Security Council in 2009.

It demands that Eritrea "cease all direct or indirect efforts to destabilise states, including through financial, military, intelligence and non-military assistance." It also "condemns" the alleged Eritrean plot to bomb the African summit.

However demands in an earlier draft resolution to ban investment in Eritrea's key mining industry and a government tax on remittances sent back by Eritrean workers abroad have been dropped.