By Jeremy Clarke and Jack Kimball
ASMARA, Sept 25 (Reuters) – Eritrea said on Friday the hunting of al Qaeda suspects in Somalia by U.S. and Ethiopian forces had crippled peace efforts in the Horn of African nation. [ID:nLP496476]
Washington and the United Nations accuse the Red Sea state of sending arms and other support to Somali insurgents battling the country’s U.N.-backed government — something Asmara denies.
Here are some questions and answers about Eritrea’s role in Somalia:
WHAT ARE THE ACCUSATIONS AGAINST ERITREA?
* The U.N. arms monitoring body says Eritrea sends money and weapons by plane and boat as well as providing training and logistical support to insurgent groups in Somalia. The body — set up to watch violations of a 1992 arms embargo — says Asmara is acting as a middleman for other countries helping the rebels.
* Since September 2007, the United Nations and western powers have said Eritrea has focused its support on the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS), a group set up at a Somali opposition conference in the Red Sea state. The U.N. arms body, citing an ARS source, said Asmara was providing between $200,000 and $500,000 a month to support the rebels.
* Eritrea is also accused of sending arms and providing other support to Ethiopian rebel groups and various guerrilla movements in western Sudan’s restive Darfur region. Some Darfuri rebels and Ethiopian opposition groups have offices in the tranquil Eritrean capital Asmara, observers say.
WHAT IS ERITREA’S RESPONSE?
* Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki told Reuters in an interview in May that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was masterminding the accusations against Asmara. [ID:nLL935105]
* Eritrea says it is “sick” of the allegations, which it says are completely unfounded.
* Isaias’ government says it supports a peaceful resolution to the Somali conflict and blames foreign powers for meddling in the region’s internal affairs, citing Washington’s weapons deliveries to Somalia’s transitional government.
* Asmara denies claims it supports Somali groups with terrorist ties, saying that it battled its own al Qaeda-linked rebels in the western part of the nation in the mid-1990s.
* The African Union has called on the U.N. Security Council to sanction Eritrea for its role in the conflict. The 53-member body wants the United Nations to impose a sea blockade and a no-fly zone to stop people and weapons from reaching Somalia.
* Sanctions may prove less than effective in Eritrea, which prides itself on its self-reliance. Decades of war against successive Ethiopian governments — which were backed by the United States and then Russia — have hardened the rebels-turned-leaders against outside aid. There are less than a handful of foreign relief groups working in the Red Sea state.
* Asmara receives little development aid from foreign nations. Remittances from the diaspora in Europe, the United States, the Middle East and other Africa nations are the biggest source of foreign exchange for the nation. Revenue from mining, which is expected to begin in the next few years, will also boost Eritrea’s balance of payments. (For Eritrea interview, double click on [ID:nLP496476]) (Editing by Daniel Wallis)