By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters)

Eritrea has warned the U.N. Security Council that a draft sanctions resolution would impose “ludicrous punitive measures” on Asmara for aiding Somali rebels and might further destabilize the Horn of Africa.

“Eritrea urges all members of the U.N. Security Council to use their influence to ensure the rejection of this draft resolution in its entirety,” Eritrea’s U.N. ambassador, Araya Desta, said in a letter to the 15-nation Security Council.

“This measure risks engulfing the region into another cycle of conflict as it may encourage Ethiopia to contemplate reckless military adventures,” he said in the letter, dated Dec. 15 and obtained by Reuters on Friday.

The United States and other council members accuse Asmara of supplying Islamist al Shabaab rebels with funds and arms as they fight to topple a fragile U.N.-backed transitional government in Somalia, a virtually lawless Horn of Africa nation.

Eritrea’s regional rival Ethiopia invaded Somalia in 2006 with tacit U.S. backing to rout an Islamic courts movement from Mogadishu. It withdrew its troops earlier this year and denies accusations by Somalia’s rebels that they have returned. Addis Ababa backs Somalia’s transitional government.

Uganda is credited with drafting the sanctions resolution, which would impose an arms embargo and asset freezes and travel bans on designated Eritrean individuals and firms. But Desta said in his letter that Washington was its true author.

“In reality, the main architect of this resolution and the single country which has been campaigning frantically in the corridors of the U.N. premises in New York … for its adoption is the United States,” he said.

ERITREA WANTS NEW AU MEETING

Desta also reiterated Asmara’s denials that his country is supporting al Shabaab in any way.

In May, the African Union called on the Security Council to sanction Eritrea.

In a telephone interview with Reuters, Desta insisted that “many African nations do not support the idea of sanctions.” He said Eritrea was urging the AU to hold another summit meeting next year to discuss the sanctions issue.

“When we speak with African leaders, many of them say they had no idea that sanctions are being considered against Eritrea,” he said. “They don’t like the idea.”

The AU officially supports sanctions against Asmara, but the organization’s current chair, Libya, has said it would vote against the Ugandan draft resolution. The Libyans have a temporary seat on the U.N. Security Council until the end of December.

Council diplomats told Reuters on condition of anonymity that they expected the council to vote on the resolution before the end of the year and predicted it would get 14 votes in favor. Libya is likely to cast the sole vote against it.

Security Council members from the West had originally expected negotiations on the resolution to run into next year. But diplomats said an agreement had emerged after Russia and China took an “unusually cooperative” stance on the resolution.

A U.N. arms monitoring body, which was set up to record violations of a 1992 arms embargo on Somalia, has said Asmara was sending munitions to Somali rebels, as well as providing them with logistical support

Somalia has been mired in chaos for nearly two decades and there is little sign the latest attempt to establish a central government is proving any more successful than the 14 previous efforts since a dictator was ousted in 1991.

(Editing by Eric Beech)