UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council imposed sanctions on the Horn of Africa state of Eritrea on Wednesday because of aid that council members say it has given to Islamist insurgents in nearby Somalia.
A resolution supported by 13 of the 15 council members slapped an arms embargo, asset freezes and travel bans on Eritrea and individuals and firms to be designated by an existing sanctions committee. Those hit would include members of the country’s leadership.
The United States and other nations accuse Eritrea of supplying al Shabaab rebels with funds and arms as they fight to topple a fragile U.N.-backed transitional government in Somalia, a state that has been virtually lawless for 18 years.
Eritrea has repeatedly denied the allegation.
Libya, which has no veto in the council, voted against the resolution, while veto-holder China abstained.
Wednesday’s resolution demands that Eritrea “cease arming, training, and equipping armed groups and their members including al Shabaab, that aim to destabilize the region” and also resolve a border dispute with Djibouti.
It says “Eritrea’s actions undermining peace and reconciliation in Somalia as well as the dispute between Djibouti and Eritrea constitute a threat to peace and international security.”
It’s the first time U.N. sanctions have been imposed on Eritrea. The last country to be sanctioned by the United Nations for the first time was Iran in December 2006.
Council members say Uganda originally drafted the resolution after the African Union called on the 15-nation body in May to punish Eritrea over its role in Somalia. But Eritrea has charged that its true author is the United States.
In a letter to the council last week describing the sanctions as “ludicrous punitive measures,” Eritrea’s U.N. ambassador, Araya Desta, warned that the move risked “engulfing the region into another cycle of conflict as it may encourage Ethiopia to contemplate reckless military adventures.”
Eritrea’s regional rival, Ethiopia, invaded Somalia in 2006 with tacit U.S. backing to rout an Islamic courts movement from Mogadishu. It withdrew its troops earlier this year.
In Wednesday’s council debate, Libyan envoy Ibrahim Dabbashi said the resolution took an “unrealistic point of view” and that sanctions were not the way to resolve the problems in the region.
Chinese Ambassador Zhang Yesui said sanctions “should not replace diplomatic efforts to resolve disputes through dialogue and negotiations.” China is traditionally leery of sanctions although it has voted for them in some cases.
But British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said Eritrea had violated a U.N. arms ban on Somalia.
In a telephone interview with Reuters last week, Desta insisted that “many African nations do not support the idea of sanctions.” He said Eritrea was urging the AU to hold another meeting next year to discuss the sanctions issue.
A U.N. arms monitoring body, set up to record violations of a 1992 arms embargo on Somalia, has said Eritrea was sending munitions and giving logistical support to Somali rebels.
There is little sign the latest attempt to establish a central government in Somalia is proving any more successful than previous efforts since a dictator was ousted in 1991.
Editing by Eric Beech