Saturday, May 23, 2009

Eritrea rejects accusations on Somali arms

UNITED NATIONS (AP) 23/05/2009

Eritrea on Friday rejected U.N. Security Council accusations that it supplied weapons to Islamist opponents of Somalia's Western-backed transitional government and questioned the government's authority.

In a letter to the council president, Eritrea's U.N. Ambassador Araya Desta said he wanted «to put on the record my government's strong opposition to, and categorical rejection of, the unsubstantiated accusations.

The council, in a presidential statement adopted on May 15, condemned the recent upsurge in fighting in Somalia led by extremists bent on toppling the government and gave strong support to the country's new leaders.

It expressed concern at reports that neighboring Eritrea has supplied arms to opponents of the government in violation of a U.N. arms embargo and called on the U.N. committee monitoring the sanctions to investigate.

Desta said his government is «appalled by the unwarranted decision of the Security Council to accuse a member state on the basis of `reports' whose origins, underlying motivation and veracity have neither been acknowledged nor ascertained.

Desta also disputed the Security Council's statement that the current transitional government «is the legitimate, internationally recognized government of Somalia.

«Transitional governments' that are periodically hatched in non-inclusive incubators outside Somalia have never survived the test of time in the past years in spite of the huge military and financial support extended to them by their external sponsors,» he said. «The illicit provision of arms associated with, and justified under, these acts have further added fuel to the simmering conflicts.

Somalis deserve the right to form their own government through peacebuilding and national reconciliation without outside interference, he said.

The United States has also accused Eritrea of «fanning the flames of violence» in Somalia and «facilitating support» for Islamic extremists carrying out attacks in the capital, Mogadishu. It demanded that Eritrea immediately end support for the extremists trying to topple the transitional government.

Desta noted that on several previous occasions, Eritrea has also been accused of sending troops or weapons to «this or that Somali faction.» Too often, he said, the accusations were timed with «illegal acts of interference and invasion of Somalia by certain powers and their regional allies.

Another weak U.N.-backed transitional government called in troops from Ethiopia, Eritrea's archenemy, in December 2006 to oust the Council of Islamic Courts, the umbrella Islamic group that controlled Mogadishu and southern Somalia for six months that year. But the Ethiopian army was viewed by many Somalis as abusive and heavy-handed and it pulled out in January.

Desta claimed the Ethiopian presence led to «two years of chaos and mayhem,» the uprooting of over 500,000 Somalis and tens of thousands of civilian deaths. He said the Islamic Courts was «wrongly labeled as `the epicenter of terrorism.

Somalia has not had a functioning government since the ouster of a longtime dictator in 1991 and is riven by fighting among clan warlords and an Islamist insurgency that has killed thousands of civilians and sent hundreds of thousands fleeing for their lives. Nearly half its population of 7 million is dependent on aid, and piracy has become rampant.