U.N. mulls sanctions against Eritrean officials

ADDIS ABABA Mon Jul 9, 2012 8:37am EDT

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ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Eritrea said on Monday the United Nations was considering imposing sanctions on two Eritrean military officials over allegations they had helped Islamist militants in Somalia, and accused Washington of being behind the plan.

The United States Treasury included the two Eritreans on a list of six people placed under sanctions last week for their role in the Somali conflict, which U.S. officials see as a growing threat to stability across east Africa.

"On July 3, the U.N. Sanctions Committee included the personal details of two Eritrean military officials in its list of persons allegedly 'associated with terrorist activities' in Somalia," the Eritrean foreign ministry said in a statement.

It accused the committee of failing to validate the charges, and said the plan was part of a "sinister ploy" by the United States, which it accuses of conspiring with its arch-foe Ethiopia to topple its government.

Eritrea, which declared independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after three decades of fighting, has an unresolved border dispute with Addis Ababa, and the two have frequently clashed as they try to influence events in Somalia.

The U.N. Security Council has twice imposed sanctions on Eritrea in the past few years for alleged support to Somalia's Islamist militants. The Red Sea state denies the allegations.

Envoys at the United Nations confirmed that new sanctions against Eritrean officials were being considered.

"The U.N. Security Council sanctions committee on Somalia and Eritrea is still discussing possible new sanctions designations and a decision could be made soon," a council diplomat told Reuters. The 15-member body is due to discuss Somalia and Eritrea on July 19, the envoy said.

The U.S. Treasury named Col. Tewolde Habte Negash, an Eritrean intelligence officer, as his government's principal coordinator for assisting armed groups including the al Qaeda-allied al Shabaab in Somalia since 2004.

It also said Col. Taeme Abraham Goitom had helped to shape the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia, an armed group whose members joined al Shabaab in 2010 and which has mounted attacks on Somali government soldiers and an African Union force trying to stabilize the country.

Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki routinely accuses the United States of siding with Ethiopia during their 1998-2000 border war for "geo-strategic reasons".

Ethiopia, a key ally in Washington's global war on Islamist insurgents, has deployed troops inside Somalia to fight al Qaeda-linked militants.

Officials in Asmara also accuse the United States of masterminding the sanctions that the U.N. Security Council imposed on Eritrea in 2009 and 2011, alleging it had provided funds and weapons to Somalia's Islamist insurgents.

(Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols in New York; Editing by Duncan Miriri and Tim Pearce)

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