ASMARA (Reuters) – The United States has intensified its criticism of Eritrea, saying the Red Sea state systematically abuses human rights and is a destabilizing influence in the Horn of Africa.
In its annual human rights country report, released late on Thursday, the U.S. State Department accused Eritrea of sponsoring terrorism in the Horn of Africa, and acting as a source and conduit for arms to insurgents in Somalia.
It said Asmara oversaw unlawful killings by its security forces, routine beatings and torture, arbitrary arrests, and severely restricted freedom of speech, the press, assembly, association and religion.
“(Throughout 2009) consistent and systemic gross human rights violations persisted unabated at the government’s behest,” the report said.
Citing a June report by the U.N. Munitions Monitoring Group, it said the Red Sea state was guilty of sponsoring terrorism in the Horn of Africa.
The State Department report went on: “The government acted as a principal source and conduit for arms to antigovernment, extremist, and insurgent groups in Somalia.”
Asmara says there is no concrete evidence for the allegations, accusing Washington of inventing statistics and interfering in the region, and blames years of intrusive U.S. foreign policy as a cause of the conflict in Somalia.
Ties between the United States and Eritrea have been severely strained by a series of accusations and counter-accusations.
In February, the U.S. embassy suspended its consular services and last week issued a travel warning, referring to a rise in anti-U.S. sentiment among Eritreans. Eritrea then accused Washington of trying to create chaos in the country..
Asmara has still not officially recognized the U.S. ambassador and the state-owned media are running a sustained campaign against what they say are decades of U.S. persecution.
The United States sees Eritrea as an enemy in the fight against Islamist radicalization, alleging support for the al Qaeda-linked Somali militant group al Shabaab.
U.S. prosecutors said this week an Eritrean arrested in Nigeria was brought to New York to face charges after receiving bomb-making training from al Shabaab.
The United States bankrolled Eritrea’s regional rival Ethiopia during its long occupation of Eritrea, a memory that still rankles among Eritreans when ties with Washington start to go cold.
The occupation ended in the early 1990s when the outnumbered Eritreans fought Ethiopia and won independence.