Eritrea exits African bloc over Somalia dispute

ASMARA, April 22 (Reuters) - Eritrea said on Sunday it had suspended its membership in an east African regional body after a rift with arch-foe Ethiopia at a meeting on Somalia this month threatened to divide the region.

The withdrawal from the seven-member Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) is the latest sign of deteriorating relations between Asmara and regional countries over Somalia where hundreds died in fighting this week.

"The Government of Eritrea was compelled to take the move due to the fact that a number of repeated and irresponsible resolutions that undermine regional peace and security have been adopted in the guise of IGAD," said a statement on the government Web site,

A meeting of IGAD foreign ministers two weeks ago in Kenya became a forum for the festering feud between Ethiopia and Eritrea, still bitter over their 1998-2000 border war and locked in what many see as a proxy war in Somalia.

Somalia and ally Ethiopia accuse Eritrea of undermining the interim government by giving aid to insurgents involved in some of the worst fighting in Mogadishu in 15 years.

Eritrea blames the United States and Ethiopia for "irresponsible" interference in Somali affairs after Addis Ababa and Somali government troops ousted Islamists in a war over the New year.

Kenya, Uganda, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea are the countries who make up the east African bloc.

The announcement came from the Eritrean foreign ministry, which was given a new chief last week after its former head died of a heart attack in 2005, according to the Web site.