September 25, 2009 / 2:08 PM / 10 years ago

INTERVIEW-Eritrea says terrorism focus not working in Somalia

* Eritrea says it is singled out unfairly

* Calls for inclusive peace talks for Somalia



By Jeremy Clarke and Jack Kimball

ASMARA, Sept 25 (Reuters) - Eritrea said on Friday the hunting of al Qaeda suspects in Somalia by U.S. and Ethiopian forces had crippled peace efforts in the Horn of African nation.

Washington and the United Nations accuse the Red Sea state of sending arms and other support to Somali insurgents battling the country’s U.N.-backed government — something Asmara denies.

"We don’t see eye to eye with Washington and some countries in the region, especially Ethiopia, on the solution to the problem (in Somalia)," Yemane Ghebremeskel, director of the Eritrean president’s office, told Reuters in an interview.

"(Their focus on terrorism) is single-minded, it is exaggerated, it is overblown. It overshadows all other aspects and issues," he said.

Some analysts and security agencies fear Somalia — with its long coastline and lack of effective government — has become a safe haven for militants, including foreign jihadists, who use it to plot attacks in the region and beyond.

U.S. special forces killed one of Africa’s most-wanted al Qaeda suspects in rebel-held southern Somalia last week, risking further inflaming anti-Western sentiment in the nation.

Somalia has been mired in civil strife since warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. Fighting has killed at least 18,000 civilians since the start of 2007.

Yemane urged Washington and its allies to push for a more inclusive peace process, including talks with al Shabaab rebels who the United States says are al Qaeda’s proxies in Somalia.

"Why should others categorise the political groups in Somalia, ostracise some and legitimise others? Why not facilitate a process of reconciliation?" he said.

A U.N. monitoring body has accused Asmara, Addis Ababa, Washington and some Gulf Arab states of violating a 1992 arms embargo on Somalia. The African Union has called on the United Nations to slap sanctions on Eritrea for its role in Somalia.

Yemane accused the body of singling out Eritrea.

"All those accusations (against other countries) have been shelved with no reason, and they’re focusing on Eritrea."

The top U.S. diplomat for Africa, Johnnie Carson, fingered Eritrea in June for stoking hostilities in Somalia.

The tranquil Eritrean capital has been home to many Somali dissidents since Asmara’s arch-foe Ethiopia sent war planes and thousands of soldiers to crush a Islamic Courts group that controlled the capital Mogadishu and much of the south in 2006.

Some analysts accuse Eritrea and Ethiopia of using Somalia as a proxy war to fight out their dispute over a shared frontier. Asmara and Addis Ababa fought a 1998-2000 border war that killed more than 70,000 people.






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