The Media Line

15/03/10

Eritrea supports Somali rebels to weaken its Ethiopian foe in defiance of UN sanctions.

Eritrea has continued to support and arm anti-government Islamist groups in Somalia in violation of a UN Security Council resolution, a new UN report says.

A report expected to be released by the UN’s Monitoring Group on Somalia notes that while Eritrea appears to have scaled down its military assistance to Islamist insurgents, it has not completely stopped it.

In 2009 “the government of Eritrea has continued to provide political, diplomatic, financial and — allegedly — military assistance to armed opposition groups in Somalia,” read the report, due to be presented this week to the UN Security Council.

Eritrea itself came under a UN arms embargo and sanctions last year for aiding Somali rebels. Analysts said that from the beginning it was questionable whether the UN moves would significantly curb Eritrea. Eritrea’s main motivation was to back insurgents who were fighting its main foe, Ethiopia.

EJ Hogendoorn, director of the Horn of Africa Project at the International Crisis Group, described the Eritrean regime as “very belligerent and totalitarian.”

“They don’t have to heed the sanctions and the question really is if these sanctions would have a real impact or just be sending a signal,” Hogendoorn told The Media Line. “That said, it does seem that the Eritrean support seems to have lessoned and it is possible that all this international pressure is having some impact.”

According to the UN’s Monitoring Group on Somalia’s report, by late 2009 Eritrea appears to have either diminished or made less visible its military assistance, while continuing to provide political, diplomatic and possibly financial support to numerous Islamist insurgents fighting in the region.

The UN report claimed that the main recipients of Eritrean aid remain the Hezb al-Islam group of Hassan Dahir Aweys, who returned to Somalia last April with Eritrean help and launched an insurgency against the government a month later.

Eritrea also gave financial support to the Ras Kamboni militia and the al-Qa’ida inspired al-Shabaab movement, which controls close to 80 percent of south-central Somalia.

Hogendoorn said that Eritrea and Ethiopia were at a proxy war, using rival Islamist groups in Somalia to undermine each other.

“Eritrea has always supported groups that are hostile to Ethiopia,” Hogendoorn said. “That has very much been a large part of their international calculations. It was in Eritrea’s interest because they [the insurgents] were basically bleeding Ethiopia.”

“Because it fears a renewed war with Ethiopia, it has carried out large-scale mobilization and forced conscription of its young male population.” Hogendoorn said. “They are a deeply unpopular regime and part of their solution to deal with this is to mobilize the people against external threats.”

The UN report also leveled criticism at the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in Somalia saying it was not improving despite foreign aid.

“Despite infusions of foreign training and assistance, government security forces remain ineffective, disorganized and corrupt,” the UN report said.