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Eritrea reduces support for Al Shabab: UN report

Enhanced international scrutiny of Asmara cited to be reason

15:19 July 16, 2012

Addis Ababa: Eritrea has reduced its support for the Al Qaida-allied Al Shabab militant group in Somalia under international pressure, but still violates UN Security Council resolutions and remains a destabilising influence, a UN report says.

The UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, which investigates violations of an arms embargo on both nations, said in a report to the Council, seen by Reuters, that it had found no evidence of direct Eritrean support for Al Shabab in the last year.

The Council imposed the embargo on the tiny east African state of Eritrea in 2009 over concerns its government was providing finance and weapons to Al Shabab — charges Asmara denied. The Monitoring Group now says that support has evaporated.

This was “a symptom of growing friction between the authorities in Asmara and Al Shabab’s leadership” as well as the “result of enhanced international scrutiny, which has made direct support ... a much riskier undertaking than in the past”, said the report, which is scheduled to be published this week.

“Although it is possible that the Eritrean authorities have continued to provide financial and other forms of assistance to [Somali] armed opposition groups, without their activities being detected, it is the Monitoring Group’s assessment that any such assistance is negligible,” the report said.

Instead, the panel presented evidence that Asmara deployed Ethiopian rebel groups via Somalia, sold weapons to smuggling rings in Sudan that do business with Palestinian arms dealers, and imported spare parts for its air force.

The report also alleged that ethnic Afar rebels responsible for the killing of five European tourists in eastern Ethiopia in January were hosted and trained in Eritrea, though there was no evidence the Red Sea state had a direct role in the killings.

It said the escape last year of Djiboutian prisoners of war held in Eritrea proved Asmara had violated a UN resolution calling on it to disclose information on their whereabouts after their capture following a border clash in 2008.

“Eritrea has failed to comply with Security Council resolutions and remains a destabilising influence across much of the region,” the report said.

The Red Sea state has previously rejected these allegations and has called for the replacement of the panel’s members over what it calls their bias in favour of its arch-foe Ethiopia. Eritrean envoys to the AU declined to comment specifically on the latest UN report.

Al Shabab has controlled much of southern Somalia since 2007, imposing a strict version of Islamic law in areas under its control. But over the last year it has been forced out of the Somali capital Mogadishu and other parts of the south by the coordinated military operations of UN-backed African troops.

'Too early to lift sanctions'

Last year, the Monitoring Group alleged Eritrea was behind a failed plot to bomb an African Union summit in Ethiopia, had bankrolled known members of Al Shabab in Kenya and had been involved in the smuggling of weapons through Sudan and Egypt.

As a result, the Council prolonged the arms embargo and assets freeze on Eritrea, in addition to a travel ban on some officials, amid an escalation in operations against Al Shabab by AU, Kenyan and Ethiopian troops and their Somali allies.

Matthew Bryden, the Monitoring Group’s coordinator, told Reuters that Eritrea was lobbying its allies at the Security Council to push for a removal of the arms embargo, but he said other Council members were reluctant to do this.

“We’re trying to make the case that any improvement in Eritrea’s conduct is the result of sanctions, and that it’s too early to lift them because of the other violations they have committed,” Bryden said.