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UN slams sanctions on Eritrea over Somali crisis

By Babs Odukoya
25 December 2009   |   6:07 am
THE United Nations (U.S.) Security Council slammed Eritrea with an arms embargo and other sanctions on Wednesday for its role in aiding rebels in Somalia and refusing to withdraw from a border dispute with Djibouti. According to a report by the Cable News Network (CNN), the council approved the resolution with veto-holder, China, abstaining and Libya, the current chair of the African Union, voting against the measure. But Eritrean Ambassador Araya Desta denounced the action, calling the resolution "shameful" and based on "fabricated lies mainly concocted by the Ethiopian regime and the United States (U.S.) administration."

Desta also denied that his country has ever given military finance to opponents of the Somalian government. “Somalis are our brothers,” he said.

However, Somalian Ambassador Elmi Ahmed Duale expressed full support for the resolution, saying Eritrea is a “major negative factor” in his country’s conflict. He called the action a “very positive step” toward resolving the “insecurity situation in the Horn of Africa” and said he hopes Eritrea will be “persuaded accordingly.”

Duale also cited a lack of justification in the nation’s “moves against Djibouti” and “innumerate hostile activities against Somalia,” including serving as a “safe haven to known terrorists” and enabling a “flow of arms and resources” to extremist groups.

The resolution bans weapon sales to and from Eritrea, which has been known to supply weapons to opponents of the Somali government, including the Islamist insurgent group Al-Shabaab. It also imposes an asset freeze, and restricts the travel of those who violate the terms of the embargo and impede the resolution of the border conflict with Djibouti — including blacklisted individuals from Eritrea’s political and military leadership.

UN member states are urged by the resolution to conduct inspections on suspicious sea and air shipments “to and from Somalia and Eritrea.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said the council acted “not hastily, not aggressively,” but with the aim of seeking constructive dialogue with the Eritrean government. She said members of the Security Council have repeatedly urged Eritrea “not to continue actions which destabilise Somalia” and to “resolve peacefully” the border skirmish with Djibouti.

“We do not see this as the door closing on Eritrea but, on the contrary, we view this as another opportunity for Eritrea to play a more responsible and constructive role in the region,” Rice said.

Deputy Libyan Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbash said adoption of the resolution was “too hasty” and was done with an “unrealistic point of view,” adding that “sanctions are not the ideal way of resolving problems” as they would only exacerbate the humanitarian situation in the region.

He explained his decision to vote against the measure by referring to his commitment not to take part in sanctions against “any African country whatsoever” as Libya has been “a victim of sanctions for many years.”

One of the resolution’s main supporters is Djibouti.

Also reacting on the sanctions, Djibouti’s ambassador, Roble Olhaye, said the border conflict has left his “small, peace-loving and pragmatic” country with only the “option of war.” Given Eritrea’s “legendary defiance,” Olhaye described the sanctions as “inevitable” and welcomed the fact “that justice is done at last.”

The African Union and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development in eastern Africa have been pushing for UN sanctions to punish Eritrea for its support of Somali rebels since mid-2009.

Also yesterday, Eritrea’s United Kingdom Ambassador Tesfamichael Gerahtu told the BBC that the sanctions were illegal and would only worsen the problems in the Horn of Africa.

Tesfamichael said the accusations made by the country’s critics were inconsistent.

“Originally it was said we had soldiers and then later came military support and now all of a sudden after certain discussions and opposition, they started to talk about political, military and logistical support,” he told the BBC’s World Today programme.

“Now, we are 100% sure that we have never, never, never supplied military equipment or otherwise to the extremists in Somalia.”