UNITED NATIONS, Nov 8 – Eritrea’s president has asked for a personal hearing before the UN Security Council in a bid to head off new sanctions over alleged support for Somalia’s Islamist rebels, diplomats said.
Rival Ethiopia has been calling for tougher action against Eritrea for several months after its neighbor was linked to a plot to bomb an African Union summit in Addis Ababa.
Kenya is now accusing Eritrea of arming Somali Islamist rebels and UN Security Council members Nigeria and Gabon have tabled a resolution calling for sanctions on Eritrea’s mining industry and remissions from abroad.
Eritrea’s President Issaias Afeworki has asked to speak to the 15-nation Security Council in New York in a move opposed by the United States.
Some Western nations oppose new sanctions, fearing such restrictions could harm the civilian population, diplomats said.
Afeworki has denied Kenya’s accusations that his country arms Shebab rebels in Somalia and that it was involved in a plot, outlined in a UN sanctions committee report, to bomb the summit in the Ethiopian capital in January.
The Security Council has not yet formally replied to the president, but diplomats said the United States and other council members feared that his presence at a meeting would only increase tensions.
“If Afeworki is at a meeting, then how could we stop the leaders of Ethiopia and other countries coming,” one Western diplomat said.
The United States has in the past spoken out in favor of new sanctions.
But envoys from other members of the council say action against mining — the mainstay of Eritrea’s tiny, crippled economy — would only harm the country’s five million people.
No date has yet been set for a meeting on Eritrea, but the six-nation Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, an East African regional bloc, is stepping up pressure for a decision, diplomats said.
The draft resolution calls on all states to “prohibit investment” in Eritrea’s key mining industry and ban the imports of gold and other resources from Eritrea, according to a copy of a draft resolution seen by AFP.
The action would also seek to ban the collection of a two percent tax on money sent home by Eritreans abroad.
In December 2009, the Security Council imposed an arms embargo, travel restrictions and asset freezes on Eritrean leaders for their alleged support to Shebab in the civil war against Somalia’s Western-backed transitional government.
Eritrea’s Foreign Minister Osman Saleh said in a letter to the Security Council last week that giving Ethiopia and “other powers that harbor belligerent intentions” the right to inspect any cargo heading for Eritrea “is fraught with dangerous security implications.”
Action against the mining industry would “cripple future economic growth,” said the minister.
He went on to slam the travel ban against officials as a bid to “reinforce the image of a ‘pariah state’ that Eritrea’s enemies have been peddling.”