May 4, 2009 / 12:53 PM / 11 years ago

Eritrea "sick" of Somalia arms accusations

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Eritrea said Monday it was tired of accusations that it sends weapons to al Qaeda-linked Islamist militants fighting Somalia’s government.

In an accusation backed by some security experts and diplomats, Somalia’s government said again this week that Asmara continues to support al Shabaab rebels through planeloads of AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons.

“We’re tired and sick of these false accusations,” Yemane Ghebremeskel, head of the president’s office, told Reuters.

“These accusations are advanced for ulterior motives.”

Eritrea accuses western powers of meddling in Somalia and fuelling strife that has killed thousands of people and forced more than 1 million from their homes in the last two years.

Analysts say a long-running regional power struggle between Eritrea and Ethiopia — who fought a 1998-2000 border war — has also complicated peace prospects for Somalia.

Somalia’s security minister Sunday called on the international community to help stop Asmara sending arms to al Shabaab, whom Washington put on its list of terrorist groups.

A U.N. panel of experts monitoring an arms embargo on Somalia and other regional observers have consistently labeled the Red Sea state as a weapons supplier for insurgents.

“Over the last several years it’s been continuous support,” one regional security expert reiterated Monday.

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 the Islamic Courts Union that controlled the Somali capital and much of the south in 2006.

The United States, which is Addis Ababa’s main ally in the Horn of Africa, had threatened under then President George Bush to place Eritrea on its state sponsors of terrorism list.

That infuriated Asmara, who had battled al Qaeda-linked Islamist insurgents in its western, gold-rich area bordering Sudan during the mid-1990s.

Reporting by Jack Kimball; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne

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